NJ Transit is reportedly considering options for upgrading service on the ‘Dinky’ rail line, which currently runs 2.7 miles from Princeton rail station on Alexander Street, to the main line station at Princeton Junction, in West Windsor. The study will consider replacing the existing Arrow III trainsets with some kind of bus. Adding infill stations along the route is also under consideration. This possibility of adding extra stations would help Princeton University connect their new development in West Windsor to the historic campus, or provide opportunities for remote employee parking. But the Dinky study should be used as an opportunity to help address the transit needs of the town. One option, which is not currently being considered, would be to run the Dinky train to Trenton.
The current Dinky line terminates at Princeton Junction, but with some relatively-modest investment it could be re-routed over the existing surface parking lot to join with the North East Corridor rail line. With four tracks, this rail line has ample capacity to serve existing train services as well as a potential new Princeton – Trenton service. The new line would serve infill stations at Princeton University’s new Lake Campus, and could make use of the existing Arrow III trains or other standard NJ Transit trainsets. The total trip time from downtown Trenton to Princeton would be about 20 mins, quicker than driving, and much quicker than the bus.
The advantage of running the Dinky to Trenton is obvious: it would connect jobs in Princeton with relatively-inexpensive housing in Trenton. By offering a rapid, traffic-free connection between downtown Trenton and Princeton, there would be a big incentive for people who work in Princeton to live in Trenton. At present, the rail trip between Trenton and Princeton is dependent on a haphazard connection at Princeton Junction. It is quicker to drive from one of the surrounding townships instead. Tying Princeton and Trenton together by a direct rail link would be mutually beneficial for the local economy, and help stimulate investment in New Jersey’s capital city.
Another possibility would be to extend the existing SEPTA Trenton line to Princeton, creating a direct Philadelphia – Princeton regional rail service. The SEPTA trains currently terminate in Trenton, but with a new rail connection to the Dinky Line at Princeton Junction, they could continue on to Princeton rail station. The journey time from Princeton to Philadelphia 30th St Station would be around 47 mins. Either of these options would allow substantial growth of ridership on the Dinky Line, and would not require major changes to the existing track or bridges. By using standard trains, it would not be necessary to add new maintenance sheds for novel light rail vehicles that might serve a renovated Princeton Branch rail line.