No positive train control for the Dinky: NJ Transit will use crew and equipment ‘to support PTC installation’

Members of Save the Dinky, a group that promotes the Dinky, see service shutdowns for three months or more as another threat to the survival of the Dinky. File photo.

New Jersey Transit officials see Dinky train service as expendable, at least when it comes to work needing to be done on other train lines. For at least three months, the Dinky train will not operate at all as New Jersey Transit implements positive train control on trains across the state.

But positive train control, a safety measure mandated by the federal government, is being implemented on all New Jersey Transit train lines except the Dinky. The federal government has exempted the Dinky line from being required to use positive train control, state officials confirmed today after Planet Princeton made an inquiry about the issue.

Nancy Snyder, a spokesperson for New Jersey Transit, said the federal government has exempted the Dinky because only one train runs on the Dinky line.

The Dinky is being shut down for at least three months. The rail equipment and crews need to be used elsewhere in the system to facilitate PTC installation systemwide, Snyder said.

Beginning in the mid October, the Dinky will be replaced by buses. Service will not be restored until at least mid January. Officials said the reduction in service is necessary to meet federal deadlines.

Local train advocates worry that Dinky ridership will not rebound after the three-month break. Ridership declined after the train station was shut down in August of 2013 and was replaced by shuttles. Ridership numbers never quite rebounded after the new train station opened on Alexander Road.

Kip Cherry, a member of the local train advocacy group Save the Dinky, has compiled data from New Jersey Transit that shows that ridership declined after the Dinky train line was shortened. In 2012, 605,783 people used the Dinky train. After the station was relocated and buses were replaced by the Dinky again, ridership was 538,187 passengers in 2015.  For 2017, ridership dropped to 481,867 passengers,  according to Cherry’s data. 

“Congestion is a big problem we have,” Cherry said. “Having all those people on the road is going to make congestion worse. This is a lousy time to have a shut down. It’s the worst time they could choose, when ridership is normally high in October. We should press New Jersey Transit hard on this issue.”

John Kilbride, another member of Save the Dinky and a member of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, attended the Princeton Council on Monday night with Cherry and questioned why the Dinky needs to be shut down for three months. “The hardware involved does not require extensive work on the tracks, and the line is very short,” Kilbride said. “Why not do the work at night, as other line upgrades have been done?”

Kilbride said equipment was installed on other lines without curtailing line operations.

“This community deserves an explanation. Many commuters in and out of Princeton who rely on the Dinky will be seriously inconvenienced,” he said, adding that a three-month hiatus could jeopardize the long-term viability of the line. He urged local officials to send a letter to New Jersey Transit and the governor asking for an explanation about why the service is being eliminated for three months. He also said officials should ask for assurances from New Jersey Transit that the three-month stoppage is not a prelude to eliminating Dinky service altogether.

At the council meeting,  Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said she shared Kilbride’s concerns, but was under the impression that the Dinky needed positive train control. She suggested that the municipal public transit committee draft a resolution on the subject. “I learned a little bit about positive train control over the weekend. There is no way around it,” she said. “The Dinky does need it. It is a federal regulation. It protects the intersection and two ends. It stops the train if the conductor fails to do so. No matter what, you still need it.”

Councilman David Cohen said it was his understanding that the service shutdown was partly being done to save money for the positive train control on other train lines. “We’ve heard for years that the Dinky is not a money maker, so it saves them money to stop the service for a while,” he said. “I think they should still be running it, but I just wanted to clarify the facts of the situation. I think the issue is that it’s more of a money saver.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said the federal deadline for installing the new technology is the end of the year. “That’s why there is this crunch time,” she said. “The impact is concerning though.”

Lempert said she has invited a representative from New Jersey Transit to come to next council meeting on Oct. 8 to answer questions and give officials assurances that the trains will be replaced by buses. She said she is also talking with Princeton University officials about the issue. The Dinky is scheduled to be replaced by buses starting Oct. 14. Some Dinky supporters said waiting for a board to approve a resolution, or holding a meeting with a representative from New Jersey Transit the week before the train is scheduled to be shut down, is too little, too late.

This chart, provided by resident Kip Cherry based on NJ Transit data, shows how Dinky ridership has continued to decline.

9 Responses

  • What happens if NJT has made a rational decision based on the fact that other parts of the system are a higher priority than the Dinky? We might not LIKE that decision, but if NJT gets more benefit in a time of PTC implementation crisis from use of Dinky crews elsewhere in the system, we can’t say NJT is dumb, we can just say we don’t like the decision from our own perspective.

    IMO we should be thinking about what will replace the Dinky. Whatever that is, it should be frequent, stop at four-five places along the alignment, and be less expensive to operate than the Dinky. It would be nice if it were driverless and well integrated into whatever growth occurs along that spine.

    We really need the University, W Windsor, Princeton, NJT and NJ DOT to be at the table together preparing the plan for that future — and not just asking someone else to fund it, but taking steps to make it ATTRACTIVE to fund.

  • A few errors of fact were included:

    Princeton crews are not going to the Morris-Essex line, much less be “deployed”……..

    different operational division, they will (seniority) bump where they can (M-E line is on the Hoboken side; they would need to take critical time to qualify if they need to do so)….The “Dinky” assignment is prestigious, so incumbents have good seniority. NJT can not tell an agreement employee were to work!!!!

    “Officials said the reduction in service…Federal deadlines…”

    wrong, the article highlights elsewhere the reduction is needed to “conserve resources, both equipment and manpower

    (“Trackside rumblings” seems to indicate the Dinky equipment was now needed because of wreck damage to several cars a few Friday night ago in the North River tunnel whereby a piece of the overhead catenary system penetrated the roof of an mu car.)

    Crumiller remarks……she’s (still) not familiar with even the basic PTC verbage, a point I mentioned to her before my 9/24 Council appearance:

    “It protects the intersection”……..presuming she’s referring to Faculty Rd. crossing…….if the gates aren’t working PTC may detect that; a car on the tracks – No.

    “It stops the train if the conductor….” Conductor is not operating the train, the engineer is/does!!!!!

    Not clear why all the Cohen and Lempert words are included since they are no longer relevant given the info in the first few paragraphs……

    • If they need that huge fleet of Dinky cars (both of them!) because of that incident a few weeks ago, I’d have thought they’d have taken them by now. The more facts we see, the more this stinks.

  • One reason that Dinky ridership has declined 13% since 2015 is that there is (finally!) enough daily parking at Princeton Junction for everyone. In the bad old days daily parking would run out early, so some people would park at the Dinky lot instead. Now, anyone with a car can enjoy the greater convenience, reliability, and faster total trip time of parking at the Junction.

  • Umm … does someone really need to spell this out? PTC isn’t needed on the Dinky line because there is no other traffic sharing the tracks. So, there isn’t a need to shutdown the Dinky line for three months, three days or three minutes. The excuse that engineers and staff are needed for other lines is nonsense. NJT is reducing train service while PTC is being implemented which logically means fewer engineers and staff are needed. And while we are at it, have you ever counted the “engineers and staff” on the Dinky? One of each? Yeah, that’s going to make a huge difference in staffing the smaller number of trains. NJT has stated that most train personnel have already been trained on PTC, so “coverage” is no reason to reassign the Dinky crew.
    No, NJT is switching to buses for three months to kill the Dinky permanently.

  • Thank you Planet Princeton for finding out the real reason for the 3 month closure. I’m surprised that the Town’s public officials didn’t know this.

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