One Last Ride From The Old Dinky Station

Princeton Station, at University Place.

Princeton Station, at University Place. (Click to expand.)

NJ Transit has issued a statement advising passengers using Princeton station (the ‘Dinky‘ terminus, on University Place) that the station will be closed for the next two weekends (June 15-16 and June 22-23). During this time, a temporary Dinky station will apparently be constructed somewhere south of the present station location to enable further construction of Princeton University’s Arts and Transit development.

Princeton Station, on University Place.

Princeton Station, on University Place. (Click to expand.)

At this stage, we don’t have a date for when the current Dinky Station will be closed. According to the University’s information page, two interruptions in service were anticipated, one during transfer of service to an interim station, which is supposed to happen in ‘fall 2013’, and then a second disruption when service moves to the final, new Dinky terminus. However, with service disruptions out of Princeton station starting already, we might speculate that the closure of Princeton Station may happen sooner rather than later. If you don’t ride the Dinky regularly, and are keen to have one last tour of the old station, now might be a good time to go down and do it!

The Dinky train departing Princeton Station.

The Dinky train departing Princeton Station. (Click to expand.)

Much has been said and written about relocation of the Dinky Station. Many Princeton residents are unhappy about the station moving further away from the town, requiring a longer walk for passengers using the train whose final destination is in town. A good summary of the debate was posted by the University Press Club, in which Princeton residents state that moving the Dinky station is unnecessary and unhelpful, and University honchos respond that it would be impossible to modify their development proposal to maintain the present location of Princeton station, and that the move isn’t a big deal anyway. Some Princeton residents have argued that the value of the new University neighborhood justifies the move; but others, notably the ‘Save The Dinky‘ group, are using every legal remedy to fight against it. This week, opponents of the proposed move won a legal victory as a judge agreed they had standing to oppose the move in court, over-ruling University objections.

The McCarter theater, as seen from directly across the street at the current Princeton Station.

The Berlind Theater in the McCarter Theater Complex, as seen from directly across the street at the current Princeton Station. (Click to expand.)

A big advantage of the current Princeton Station location is that it delivers passengers to a fairly central campus location. This is also closer to the downtown area. Most Princeton residents live north of Nassau Street, and moving the station further south will certainly require a longer walk for them, potentially upsetting the delicate balance of incentives that induce people to use transit instead of getting in their cars. A relatively small proportion of Princeton-area workers currently use rail as their primary means of transport to work: 7.1% of Princeton residents who work elsewhere cite rail as their primary commute mode, whereas just 1.5% of people traveling to Princeton to work use rail. These data, from the American Community Survey, suggest that 1,350 people ride the Dinky every day. A survey commissioned by the University in 2006 found pretty close agreement, with 1,400-1,500 people riding the Dinky on weekdays.

The current Princeton station takes passengers to a fairly central part of the University campus. In this picture, the mid-rise modern building immediately across from the station is the New South Building, which contains University offices and services.

The current Princeton Station is close to the central part of the University campus. In this picture, the mid-rise, more modern building immediately across from the station is the New South Building, which contains University offices and services. Forbes College is across the street, and Whitman College is footsteps away. (Click to expand.)

The Dinky Waiting Room, which is closed on weekends, is an attractive old building, with several period features, including, as seen in this photo below, a public payphone. This building will become a cafe, with the other building at Princeton Station becoming a full-service restaurant in the local Terra Momo mini-empire.

Dinky Waiting Room at Princeton Station.

Dinky Waiting Room at Princeton Station. (Click to expand.)

Stepping into the waiting room is like stepping into the past. Unlike almost everywhere else nowadays, not an advertisement is to be seen. The atmosphere is as serene as a church.

The Dinky waiting room: not much in the way of decoration.

The Dinky waiting room: not much in the way of decoration. (Click to expand.)

Although the Dinky is made up of just one or two cars, arrival of the Dinky at Princeton station sees people crowding off to head out of the station.

Passengers getting off the Dinky at Princeton Station.

Passengers getting off the Dinky at Princeton Station. (Click to expand.)

The Dinky train uses General Electric Arrow III rolling stock,  built in 1976-77. At that time, the most popular car sold in America was the Oldsmobile Cutlass and Gerald Ford was President. New Jersey Transit is not exactly known for its flashy, modern trains, and the Dinky is no exception, but in some ways that adds to its quirky charm. Regardless of the retro interiors, the Dinky is efficient at whisking passengers to Princeton Junction. The buses which will replace the Dinky train during upcoming construction are scheduled to take 25 mins to travel the 5 miles from Princeton Station to Princeton Junction, demonstrating how useful it is to have a train that can by-pass traffic.

Inside the Dinky train.

Inside the Dinky train. (Click to expand.)

Driver's station on the Dinky Train.

Driver’s station on the Dinky Train. (Click to expand.)

Another view of the driver's station on the Dinky train.

Another view of the driver’s station on the Dinky train. (Click to expand.)

If you want to check the hydraulic pressure in the brake pipe while riding the Dinky, you can do so using this convenient analogue gauge.

If you want to check the hydraulic pressure in the brake pipe while riding the Dinky, you can do so using this convenient analogue gauge. The dials jump to life when the engine starts. (Click to expand.)

Emergency and alert pyrotechnics can be found in a box at the end of the carriage in the Dinky Train: probably best not to touch this box, unless you want a visit from Homeland Security.

‘Fusees & Torpedo’ (Click to expand.)

Although local opposition to Princeton Station relocation is led by the ‘Save The Dinky’ group, the University’s plan specifically involves keeping the Dinky. The train will keep going after 2014 from a new station in the Princeton University ‘Arts and Transit’ area.

The Dinky Station that will form part of the completed Arts and Transit project will be situated close to this multi-level parking structure, seen across the tracks from the parking lot of Princeton station.

The Dinky Station that will form part of the completed Arts and Transit project will be situated close to this multi-level parking structure, seen across the tracks from the parking lot of Princeton station. (Click to expand.)

The green hoardings are up and construction is now well underway for the Arts and Transit project:

Construction at Princeton University's Arts and Transit project.

Construction at Princeton University’s Arts and Transit project. (Click to expand.)

We previously noted how a number of houses on Alexander Street were offered by the University for free to anybody willing to cart them off. Apparently nobody came for the houses, and this is what they look like now:

Rubble accumulated from demolition for the Arts and Transit project, between Alexander Road and University Place, Princeton.

Rubble accumulated from demolition for the Arts and Transit project, between Alexander Road and University Place, Princeton. (Click to expand.)

For residents who are not happy about the Dinky terminus moving, it’s worth remembering that it has moved before – twice. In the early twentieth century, the Dinky station was in front of Blair Hall, much closer to Nassau Street. The current Princeton Station is about a quarter of a mile south of the original location. In 1987, the branch line tracks were shortened a second time, this time by a matter of around 100 feet. This meant that the train, which used to stop at the north waiting room, began to stop next to the south waiting room, as it does today.

The old Dinky Station, when it was further north closer to the center of town.

The old Dinky Station, which existed 1865-1918, was further north, closer to the center of town. (Click to expand.)

Barring some sudden development in court, it seems that we are in the final weeks of Dinky service to the current station. Time will tell if the new station is as popular as the current one!

Arriving in Princeton by rail, with the old Dinky waiting room in the background.

Arriving in Princeton by rail, with the old Dinky waiting room in the background. (Click to expand.)

This entry was posted in Alternative Transportation, Princeton, Transit. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to One Last Ride From The Old Dinky Station

  1. DJK says:

    It would be interesting to see if the dinky would be used significantly more had it been left up by Blair. It seems the train tracks have always been viewed as a barrier which has motivated their removal ever farther to the south. I remember reading in newspaper archives a proposal from the early ’60s to move the dinky station all the way to Faculty. It’s good that didn’t happen.

    I was intrigued by the proposal a few years back to turn the dinky line into a bus only lane. All the train commuters we knew, which included my wife, who weren’t coming directly from or to the university drove to the Junction to take the train. Walking to the dinky just added too much time to a commute that was already an hour and forty minutes door to door. Philadelphia commuters, also my wife for a time, tend to drive all the way to Trenton to avoid the long and badly timed connections between NJ transit and SEPTA. Had a bus from Palmer Square connected directly to the Junction via the dinky right of way I do think that would have captured quite a few of the train commuters who live in the downtown. I understood the opposition of course, but it was hard to distinguish how much of that was motivated by nostalgia and how much by legitimate criticisms of the plan.

    In the longterm we could greatly improve dinky ridership by encouraging development in walking distance of its stations. The university side of course is well anchored by the university but could use a great deal of rental housing on Alexander that could allow couples where one works at the university and one takes the train into the city to avoid driving and parking either at the Junciton or the Dinky. The real flaw is the near total lack of development in walking distance of the Junction station. The more housing and jobs that exist in walking distance of that station the better for regional transit use. Some hotels at the junction would also be prudent given how many folks take the train to the Junction and then are forced to take a taxi to a hotel and then another taxi from their hotel into downtown Princeton. The former Borough has more jobs than all of West Windsor. If West Windsor had concentrated its jobs in the same fashion around the Junction with a commensurate amount of housing it could have taken thousands of cars off the roads and saved several square miles of open space.

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  9. Nathanael says:

    Should’ve been extended further north than Blair. And it should be light rail/streetcar.

    At this point, with the complete mess which the university administration has made, the only sane option is to run the Dinky straight up University Place. I suppose you could also do a serious reroute and run it up Washington Rd. — or better yet, run it up Elm Drive. Either way, it needs to get to Nassau St. and turn right.

    If the Princeton U. administration had not been intent on damaging the train line, which they clearly were, they’d have converted it to light rail and centered the campus around it long ago.

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