Letters: Town and Princeton University Need to Work to Increase Dinky Ridership

To the Editor:

As readers now know, New Jersey’s appellate court has upheld the legality of NJ Transit’s relocation of the Dinky terminus to accommodate the University’s development goals. We respect the legal process, but we are disappointed that these rulings have shown so little sensitivity to the public interests involved. We fought this battle to give voice to the interests of public transportation users, and we are grateful to the regional, town, alumni, and University supporters and our many other backers who have recognized that this was a battle worth fighting, win or lose.

We brought our court cases because we believed, and still do, that the relocation of the Dinky terminus and destruction of our historic and charming station was a terrible idea. Princeton has lost an in-town station with easy pedestrian access that provided a mass transit link to Northeast Corridor. Princeton has also lost an iconic train station with irreplaceable literacy, cultural, and political associations. The park-and-ride facility we have in its place has all the charm of an industrial site and is inconvenient. It is no surprise that Dinky ridership has declined significantly.

When Borough elected officials debated zoning approvals for an Arts complex that involved relocating the Dinky, they were told by NJ Transit that a 1984 contract gave the University the absolute right to relocate the terminus. Our cases established that this was not true: the judges said that NJ Transit retained the full authority to approve or disapprove the move.

We also argued that before giving any approval NJ Transit was required to hold a meaningful public hearing to show the move was in the best interests of NJ Transit riders. Instead, with the backing of our Governor, who controls NJ Transit and also is an ex-officio University Trustee, NJ Transit assented to the move behind closed doors and presented the plan to the public as a fait accompli. The Court has said the law permits this. However, if this is the law, the law should be changed. NJ Transit should not be permitted to make backroom deals to turn over precious public transportation assets to a private entity without any public hearing or accountability.

We encourage Princetonians who rely on the Dinky to join us in pressing for enforcement of the promises made by Princeton University in a memorandum of understanding about the Dinky and public transit, and to identify steps than can and should be taken to improve service and ridership on the Dinky. We also urge our elected officials to press NJ Transit to move quickly to honor its obligation to promote public awareness of the history of the Princeton Branch through the installation and permanent maintenance of interpretative displays at the new station.


Anita Garoniak


  1. I’ve never understood all the fuss about moving the rail
    shuttle that runs between the Princeton and Princeton Junction train stations. “Rail shuttle?” Wait, aren’t we talking about the “Dinky?” Admit it, that huggable nickname is why we’re even still discussing this thing.

    Calling it the “Dinky” makes it seem like “The Little Engine
    That Could” or “Thomas the Train.” How could we mess with Thomas? If we call it the “Princeton Shuttle,” its given name, maybe we can have an honest discussion about it. In my experience the shuttle has always been:

    1) Inconvenient. It’s not within walking distance for most Princeton residents. Its two largest neighbors are Princeton University and a private golf course.

    2) Slow. The Princeton Shuttle adds at least 15-20 minutes to any trip. You have to wait on two platforms and board two trains (Princeton and Princeton Junction).

    3) Unreliable. I’ve only taken the Princeton Shuttle maybe a half dozen times during the 13 years I’ve lived in Princeton – each time because parking was unavailable at Princeton Junction. It was out of service on two of my return trips. One time I waited 20 minutes for a replacement shuttle bus. The next time I paid $25 for a cab.

    Anyway, if you do walk to the Princeton station, what’s
    another two minutes? You’re going to be spending the next hour-and-a-half sitting on a crowded train. Enjoy the stroll.

    1. First, the stroll is no fun if it’s freezing, raining, or you have luggage. Second, the walk from the old dinky to the new one is not a pretty walk.

      Btw, I’ve ridden the dinky many times over the past 13 years, and I have never had a problem. Sounds like you were just unlucky.

  2. I have yet to meet any “supporter” of the Dinky who actually uses it. The exception of course are the auto-less students, and for them a TigerTransit bus route would be / was a fine alternative.

    Maybe it’s because for 95% of those who take the train to NYC/EWR or even Philly, it’s just not that convenient. 2-seat rides with intermittant schedules are inferior to 1-seat rides.

    The Dinky is a special-interest anachronism that is a cash drain for an underfunded NJ Transit.

    1. Apparently you didn’t ride the dinky. You would have met supporters of if you had, people who rode it regularly and liked it where it was.

      I ride the dinky when I go to the city and would not want to ride a bus instead, esp crossing route 1 at rush hour. It’s definitely less convenient to ride the dinky where it is now – so ridership is (not surprisingly) down.

  3. This letter includes so many misrepresentations, fallacies and downright lies that I needed to comment in case people actually think it’s true.
    First, the groups lost, as the writer acknowledges. But she then continues with an avalanche of defensive, one-sided comments to make it appear the court was bought off or influenced into an inappropriate decision. Give it up! You were wrong, the courts ruled you were wrong, and you and the dozen other people involved lost.
    She laments the “destruction of our historic and charming station,” without noting that the buildings were NOT destroyed and, in fact, are undergoing a painstaking renovation that will yield two much-needed eating establishments in this area of Princeton. What’s more, they were hardly “charming.” They were, in fact, abandoned and had been standing unused for many years.
    I’ve commuted for 15 years, many of those from the old Dinky, and riders had to stand outside with no bathroom or interior space.
    Finally, the writer says the new station is a “park-and-ride facility … has all the charm of an industrial site and is inconvenient.” In fact, the new building is quite astounding in its architectural design, has heat and air-conditioning, is furnished with furniture worthy of a museum, is connected to a bathroom, and has better parking, better access for people being picked up or dropped off, and is literally feet from the old station.
    I agree efforts should be made to encourage ridership, which has dropped in the face of ever-increasing fares and continued construction in the area. It is unworthy of that laudable goal to pollute the argument with false accusations, continued pounding on settled law.

    1. Sorry, Princeton Fan, but there was charm in the old station, and the charm is gone: The kiss and ride design was the brainchild of the late Barbara Sigmund who was Mayor of Princeton when the University gained control of the site. She cared about Princeton history and wanted the Dinky station to be a gateway into historic Princeton. Now, the old canopy is gone, the platform is gone, and there is nothing left to indicate that these buildings were railroad buildings.
      “Industrial complex” is a kind description for the new station. It has zero charm and zero connection to Princeton history. There are no bathrooms in the so-called station. The bathrooms are in the Wawa. As for the location, the new station is over 1100 feet from the new station on pathways for pedestrians that are treacherous.
      As for false accusations, it isn’t clear what the falsehoods are. The courts upheld the decision to destroy an historic train station–probably because the decision was supported by the Governor and an influential University. The writer says it is too bad the court ignored the public interest at stake. Not false at all. Just realistic. End of story.

      1. When construction is done next year, the new station will be < 2 minutes from the old station. That may help ridership, which is also affected by better parking at the Junction, Tiger Transit's B route, and other alternatives.

  4. You raise good points Anita. In my mind, if it had to be moved, I would have preferred to relocate the Dinky closer to town, such as near Nassau Street, to improve access.

    Perhaps the big picture of this episode is the need for transparency. Too often we are invited to the discussion once the decision has been made – it would be preferable to run things in the opposite order.

    1. Bill, you must not live in Princeton or have been involved in reading the years of newspaper articles and visiting the meetings before the decisions were made.
      The community was very aware, lots of input was taken into account, and the idea of moving the Dinky closer was discussed but rejected for many reasons – not the least of which is where would the track go, what would be torn down to make room for it, etc.
      There was sufficient debate, transparency and even a few lawsuits that slowed it down to make time for more debate and discussion.
      Unfortunately, even court decisions and completed construction doesn’t end debate in Princeton on the law or where a building should be built. We are a stubborn crew that doesn’t like to be wrong!

        1. This is true, lilymax. LONG BEFORE public discussion began, everything was planned… right down to the detail that the old station become a restaurant & with an agreement that the Momo Bros. manage it. The shift in the restaurant management to contract with someone else is the ONLY thing that varies significantly from the University’s original plan.

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