NJ Transit today announced alternatives for upgraded transit along the Princeton ‘Dinky’ rail corridor. The agency has been considering different options for the Dinky line as part of its ‘Princeton Transitway’ study. Earlier this year, NJ Transit launched an outreach effort to get suggestions from the public about what kind of transportation options people would like to see (Report: “NJ Transit Launches Public Consultation to Identify Potential Upgrades to Princeton ‘Dinky’ Rail Line). An interim report was was finally released today on the NJ Transit project website. As expected, the latest update does not include a preferred alternative. Instead, it outlines four possibilities for the Dinky line in the future.
Among the four options, “Alternative 4” would keep the existing rail stock, that is, the aging Arrow III trains that have plied the line since the 1970s. The other options involve new transit modes. Alternatives 1 and 2 would replace the existing trains with a combination of light rail transit and ‘Bus Rapid Transit’. Alternative 3 would use ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ only. Light rail transit would run on rails, similar to the NJ River Line. Bus Rapid Transit would run on rubber tires, but would include many of the features of rail transit, such as upgraded stations and dedicated right-of-way. Alternatives 1, 2, and 3 would all include a new bike/walk trail along the Dinky right-of-way, which would connect Princeton and West Windsor, and which would have a connection to the D&R Canal Trail. In every case, any vehicles used for transit would be all-electric.
The Light Rail Transit envisioned as part of Alternatives 1 and 2 would run along the existing Dinky right-of-way between Princeton Junction and Princeton Rail station. However, in addition to the tow existing rail stations, two new infill rail stations would be added. One of these would be at Canal Pointe Boulevard, and the other at Alexander Road and Roszel Road (see map below). Any of the options involving Bus Rapid Transit (Alternatives 1, 2, and 3) would additionally have BRT running along the Dinky right-of-way, and additionally into downtown Princeton in mixed traffic along regular roads. The BRT would be able to serve six additional new stations,, which would be at Nassau St near Palmer Square, near Princeton Public Library, near the ‘Avalon Princeton’ development on Witherspoon St, at City Hall, on Valley Road, and at the Princeton Shopping Center.
Bus Rapid Transit Stations in downtown Princeton would have a specially-designed style, with low-level boarding, bicycle and scooter parking, and panels indicating the time of arrival of the next transit service. BRT service would run at least every 15 minutes, and possibly even more frequently. The service would be improved using ‘transit priority’ at traffic signals, which would mean that the BRT would automatically get a green light. Dedicated transit lanes may be implemented on certain sections of the route at peak periods. Any such service would be likely to massively boost the property values of homes in north-Central Princeton, as it would provide a frequent, high-quality service direct to Princeton Junction with onward transit to New York City and all points in-between.
The different alternatives have different cost estimates. Alternatives 1 and 2, which include new Light Rail Transit, are estimated to cost $101 million and $111 million respectively. Alternative 3, which is Bus Rapid Transit only, would be much cheaper, at $46 million. Alternative 4, which is the ‘no-build’ option, would cost just $15 million, with funds being dedicated to servicing the existing rail fleet. The various options are likewise estimated to be used by different numbers of people. Alternatives 1, 2 and 3 are expected to draw around 2,000 daily riders each, whereas Alternative 4 (the no-build option) would be expected to be used by around 750 daily riders.
In terms of next steps, NJ Transit will consult throughout the winter about the desirability of the various alternatives. It appears that there may have been a ‘public stakeholder meeting’ today to present the alternatives, although it’s not clear who was invited. After operations concepts are refined, a decision on what to build is anticipated around spring of 2022. NJ Transit is asking members of the public to complete a 5-minute survey at this link, to get insight into what options people prefer.
See NJ Transit Princeton Transitway website for more details. Click here to view the slides from the December 1 ‘public stakeholder meeting’.