A task force set up to consider upgrades to transit service along Alexander Street and University Place is set to present a final report to Princeton Council. Their ‘preferred alternative’ is a streetcar/light rail service operating on the existing Princeton Branch rail line between Princeton Junction and Princeton Station, which would then continue via a dedicated track on the east side of University Place to a new stop in downtown Princeton on Nassau Street. The cost of building the new system would be at least $45 million.
Set up as part of a memorandum of understanding between the town and Princeton University, the Alexander Street / University Place Transit and Transportation Task Force has been meeting for several years. Working with consultants from URS, the task force aimed to identify opportunities for the ‘next generation’ of transit service between Princeton and the Princeton Junction station in West Windsor. The current ‘Dinky’ train service uses rolling stock from the 1970s, which has been almost entirely phased out from NJ Transit revenue service.
A ‘shortlist’ of transit options was evaluated by a panel of experts. These included Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Light Rail (LRT), Streetcars, and Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). The mode that scored the highest points in terms of achieving the goals of transit along the Alexander Street corridor was Bus Rapid Transit, but the task force set this option aside on the basis that it has been studied already by NJ Transit. Light Rail and Streetcars also scored well, so these were selected as the preferred alternative. (Modern streetcars share many features in common with what has been called ‘light rail’, so these two modes were considered together.)
Several options would allow a new streetcar service to continue from the current Princeton rail station to downtown Princeton. The report suggests creating a new, separated transit route on the east side of University Place (so-called ‘Alternative F’). Streetcars could exit Princeton rail station, and use this route to gain access to downtown. The transit route would be bidirectional, meaning streetcars would go up and down the same side of the street. This option requires the smallest amount of new track, and would be the cheapest to construct.
The proposed streetcar service is estimated to boost the number of people using rail to travel between Princeton and Princeton Junction from a current daily total of around 2,020 riders to 2,450 riders, equivalent to a 21% increase. The cost of the service would depend on the exact route selected, but would be at least $45 million. A number of funding possibilities are discussed in the report, including federal grants, local funding, and value-capture mechanisms. If constructed, the new streetcar line would be the first streetcar service in Princeton since 1940.
The Dinky right-of-way has been suggested as a potential off-road bicycle trail connecting Princeton and West Windsor. Such a trail could potentially be constructed without impacting rail service. However, this possibility was not addressed in the current report.
The final report will be presented to Princeton Council tonight (5/10/2015). You can download it yourself at this link (note: 173 Mb PDF download).
What do you think of the Princeton transit report? Do you agree with their findings? Have your say in the comments section below.