Feds: We Have No Jurisdiction Over NJ Transit Rail Line Moves

A temporary station will be built about a quarter mile south of the existing Dinky station.

A federal transportation board has ruled that New Jersey Transit did not need its permission to remove part of the Dinky rail line that connects downtown Princeton to the main train station in Princeton Junction.

The United States Surface Transit Board ruled yesterday that it has no jurisdiction over the New Jersey Transit train line. National and state train advocacy groups had filed a petition asking the agency to intervene in the matter more than a year ago.

“We conclude that the service that NJ Transit provides over the Princeton Branch (and over the rest of its system) is not subject to the Board’s jurisdiction because it is mass transportation provided by a local government authority,” reads the decision.

According to the board, commuter passenger service is also excluded from the agency’s jurisdiction. The fact that the line connects with Amtrak, a national train line, is irrelevant, according to the board.

“The entire NJ Transit system, and many points on other transit systems, can connect with Amtrak, but that fact alone does not give the Board jurisdiction over all of these statutorily excepted mass transit operations,” reads the decision. “That exception applies here even though a party riding on the Princeton Branch can ultimately end up riding an Amtrak train on the Northeast Corridor.”

The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and the National Association of Railroad Passengers had contended that the station move usurped the jurisdiction of the federal agency over abandonments of railroad lines in interstate commerce. The petition called on the Surface Transportation Board to declare its jurisdiction over the Princeton Branch, and to require that any reduction in its length be undertaken only with the federal body’s express approval.

The new Dinky station will be located 460 feet south of its former location as part of Princeton University’s $320 million arts and transit project. The former location was closed last fall and a temporary station has been built on Alexander Street. The two historic station buildings on University Place will be converted into a cafe and restaurant.

The train advocacy groups fear that the station move to a less convenient location farther from the center of town will result in a loss of passengers, which would then reduce the economic viability of the rail service and would also inhibit its future extension directly to Princeton’s Central Business District.

University officials have repeatedly said the station move is necessary to accomplish the University’s goals, including the second access road to its large parking garage.Train advocates proposed an at-grade crossing so that vehicles can access the garage via University Place, but school officials argued it was not be feasible or desirable

The petition is one of several legal actions filed to try to stop the station move. Train advocates have lost every legal battle so far. A few appeals are still working their way through the courts. It is unclear whether the Surface Transportation Board decision will be appealed.