NJ Transit Capital Plan Offers Clues About Dinky Train Replacement

Rendering of possible Dinky train replacement, from NJ Transit Capital Plan. (click to expand)

A long-range capital plan released by NJ Transit earlier this month confirms that the agency is considering ways to replace the Dinky train, which runs between Princeton Rail Station and Princeton Junction. According to the capital plan, the existing overhead electrical wires, which power the existing Dinky train, would be removed as part of a potential upgrade. The estimated cost of the project is $61 million. 

Planning for a ‘Princeton Transitway’ replacement for the Dinky train was first reported at the Planet Princeton blog  in January. The project is one of just a few in the Central New Jersey area to be included in the NJ Transit long-range capital plan. A new study of light rail in New Brunswick is also proposed, with a $10 million price tag.

According to the capital plan, the goals of the Dinky train upgrade would be to:

  • reduce maintenance costs while providing expanded service
  • improve customer experience through the use of modern equipment
  • increase capacity, to enable the service to meet residential growth
  • replace an old and expensive rail service with modern surface transportation to improve overall state of good repair

No specific route for the new Princeton Transitway is discussed, but the document does mention that it would be based around the existing rail right-of-way, which runs through the Princeton University campus, and provide “an anchor to accommodate expanded housing and facilities in the surrounding area”.

If the overhead electrical wires are removed, as the proposal envisages, then any future replacement for the Dinky train would need an alternative source of power. The most obvious alternative would be to use diesel multiple units, as are currently used on the River Line light rail, which runs from Trenton to Camden. Another possibility is that a future Princeton Transitway could be powered by batteries, which would be recharged at either end of the line. Prototypes for battery-powered trains have been trialed in several countries including one powered entirely by solar power in Australia.

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