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