News & Reviews News Wire NJ Transit report calls for replacing ‘Princeton Dinky’ with light rail, buses

NJ Transit report calls for replacing ‘Princeton Dinky’ with light rail, buses

By | December 5, 2022

Proposal, estimated to cost $190 million, still needs funding

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Two-car EMU trainset rounds curve
NJ Transit’s Princeton Branch train, popularly known as the Princeton Dinky, arrives at the Princeton University station in August 2019. NJ Transit has released a report identifying the preferred alternative to replace the service. David Lassen

PRINCETON, N.J. — NJ Transit would replace its current “Princeton Dinky” operation using Arrow III electric-multiple unit cars with light rail service, as well as buses extending the operation into central Princeton, under the preferred alternative outlined in a study released last week.

The website Walkable Princeton reports the preferred alternative — among four options, including maintaining the current service — would see the existing 2.7-mile rail spur rebuilt for light rail and to accommodate buses. This would cost an estimated $100 million. Light rail would operate every 15 to 30 minutes, with buses every 5 to 9 minutes. Another $45 million would be spent on light rail and bus equipment, and an additional $45 million on an adjacent pedestrian and bike route.

The proposal would add two intermediate stations on the current route served by a 5-minute ride, as well as up to five additional stops on the bus route into downtown. Funding has yet to be determined for the project, which would require an environmental impact analysis before any work could begin.

The final report is available here.

Map showing proposed transit service in Princeton, N.J.
The proposed replacement for “Princeton Dinky” service would rebuild the existing rail line (black line) for light rail, which would alternate with bus service to downtown Princeton (dotted line). NJ Transit

16 thoughts on “NJ Transit report calls for replacing ‘Princeton Dinky’ with light rail, buses

  1. Many good comments in these posts. Trying to make “improvements” often leads to making things worse. Leave the Dinky in place and add two platforms at the proposed light rail sites. Other rebuilds are huge money wasters.

  2. I rode it last weekend for the first time and ate at the Dinky Bar and Kitchen. That was the old station. It seemed to be doing pretty good business.

  3. I’ve ridden “the dinky” many times since Sept. 1972. Patronage varies. First big mistake was abandoning the classic depot. Handwriting was on the wall for the current conundrum with little hope for a good outcome.

  4. As an employee of the college publisher D. Van Nostrand in Princeton I used
    the dinky at least three times a year for sales meetings 1965-1968. On all the
    trips I was the single rider and has no complaints. BTW, how many riders use
    the dinky to/from NÉ Corridor? And how many of the AMTRAK trains stop at
    Princeton Jct. ?

    Incredible waste of money just rehab the existing line and use trolly cars for the
    short run between the two points and just have buses at the Princeton Station for
    those going into Princeton proper.

    Bill Grant
    Cols, OH

  5. Commentator Gishlick makes the point. The real beneficiaries of the 100 Megabucks are the engineering, consulting and legal firms involved. It doesn’t matter what they build if anything.

    The schlubs that ride the train don’t count. Incidentally, the University is the one that pushed the RR Station 1/2 mile further out of town.

    The curve at Princeton Jct. wears out wheels quickly and the only real advantage of using 100 mph MU cars is they can run to Morrisville Shop if necessary. Should they opt for light rail, I don’t see any provision for maintaining the light rail cars that will be trapped on the line.

  6. Either rip it up and make a busway with the buses continuing on into Princeton or leave it alone. $100 million for this? It’s as bad as the 3C Corridor in Ohio. Tens of millions have been spent on studies, But when opportunities to get service started come along nothing but the sound crickets and weeds growing taller.

  7. This plan is a foolish waste of time and money or somebody has money to burn.
    The Princeton Dinky has been running for years with very good patronage and no real complaints. The only other reason that this idea is being vpushed is that either real estate interests or bus and light rail vehicle manufacturers stand to make a handsome profit off this by sale of new equipment to use on this new line if it gets built. As it is often said, I smell a rat in this foolish plan and somebody stands to make a fortune for themselves.
    Joseph C. Markfelder

    1. There were once two trolley routes between Trenton and Princeton. Both are long gone and portions of their rights-of -way are no longer available because of development etc. and both had portions in streets at both ends. Also there would predictably be heavy NIMBY opposition to any such restoration.

    2. The suggestion was something betwixt sarcastic and facetious. Nevertheless, the truth comes through: mass transportation is so far down on the list of priorities of the great unwashed masses that we have dithered for decades on the fate of a 2.7 mile branch line.

    3. As I said in a WSJ letter a year and a half ago, the financial benefits of these dollars and studies accrue to those engineering, consulting and legal firms that are involved in the process. Our system of providing for effective public and private transportation alternatives is horribly broken and not market responsive. It is unlikely to be fixed in my lifetime-if ever. If these policies existed 100 years ago we would be a much poorer (and greener??) country than we are today.

  8. The parallel roads have a lot of traffic, are two lanes wide, no sidewalks and are not suitable for walking until you get into Princeton proper. There is also a steep grade downhill to the canal and Carnegie lake and uphill to Nassau St. in Princeton. The railroad grade is much more level but crosses a narrow bridge over the canal. The existing Princeton station was relocated several years ago and is about 1/2 mile east of the existing station which has been repurposed. The University wanted to develop the empty land that once held a large rail passenger yard for football trains as well as a local freight yard. Originally the milepost zero which is still in place was even closer to Nassau Street. Efforts to try to eliminate this service and replace it with busses or a busway have been discussed for years.

  9. And the current system was not recommended because??????????????

    The proposed alternative would spend $190M to replace current service that’s only apparent inadequacy is that it doesn’t extend into downtown Princeton????????

  10. Having both light rail and buses makes no sense. As much as I would prefer anything that travels on rails, what advantage is there to having light rail that just covers part of the bus route?

  11. What’s the point of rebuilding the ROW for light rail and to accommodate busses and walking/biking paths? According to the map there are at least two parallel roads that could accommodate busses and bikes and surely they already have sidewalks. What problem are they trying to solve here?

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