NJ Transit Releases Final Report on Study of Light Rail, Bus, Bikeway Upgrades for Princeton ‘Dinky’ Rail Line

Map of proposed new transit routes along and around the Princeton ‘Dinky’ Branch Rail Line

NJ Transit today released a final report from their study of transit alternatives along the Princeton ‘Dinky’ rail corridor. The study, which began in spring of 2021, was intended to identify what the best options are for providing future transit service between Princeton and Princeton Junction. A branch rail line currently runs from Princeton Station to Princeton Junction Station, connecting with main line rail services (link to map). The rail line mostly runs through Princeton University property north and south of the D&R canal and Carnegie Lake.

The 2.7 mile Princeton Branch uses Arrow III trains with two cars, commonly known as the ‘Dinky’ train. NJ Transit wants to discontinue use of Arrow III trains throughout their network. The Dinky has also seen falling ridership, and does not run into downtown Princeton or the neighborhoods in Princeton where most people live. The study aimed to examine whether alternatives could provide a better service, and help accommodate future requirements for transportation and parking.

In line with the preliminary study findings, released earlier this year (Report: NJ Transit Focuses On Two Options for Future Of Princeton ‘Dinky’ Rail Corridor“), NJ Transit’s preferred alternative is to replace the Arrow III trains with a modern light rail. NJ transit currently operates light rail service in Hudson County (Hudson-Bergen Light Rail) and between Trenton and Camden (River Line). The light rail would run between the existing Princeton Station and Princeton Junction Station (solid black line on map shown above).

In addition to the light rail, buses on rubber tires would also use the Dinky right-of-way, alternating with the light rail. These buses would continue from Princeton Station into the town of Princeton, and north to the Princeton Shopping Center on North Harrison Stree. A new protected bike-walk path would also be installed providing direct access between Princeton rail station and West Windsor.

The final study report provides a little more detail on new stations for a potential future Dinky light rail service. A new ‘Western Station’ would provide access to areas north of US-1 (Brunswick Pike) including the residences along Canal Pointe Boulevard, and potential future intercept parking lots or transit-oriented devleopment east of Alexander Road. A new ‘Eastern Station’ would provide convenient access to office parks and employment centers located south of US-1 near Alexander Road.

The final report also includes another very important consideration: cost estimates. Reconstruction of the rail line for light rail is estimated to cost $100m. The adjacent pedestrian/bikeway would require a further $45m, for a total of $190m. The cost of buying and operating new light rail cars and buses would depend on the frequency of service. Two options were considered. ‘Option A’ would have buses running along the Dinky corridor every 5-9 mins, and light rail every 15-30 mins. ‘Option B’ would have buses running every 10-15 mins, and light rail every 15-30 mins. ‘Option A’ is more expensive, but is estimated to have higher ridership.

It’s not clear where the funds would come from to make these changes to the Dinky corridor happen. The next step would be to do an official Environmental Impact Analysis, a key step in transit planning. Until that Enviromental Impact Analysis happens, the proposal risks going the way of other local transit studies and becoming a planning artifact. The combined light rail / bus rapid transit plan was the most popular among residents who gave feedback as part of the study, with 48% saying it was their favorite option. A new group, ‘Friends of the Dinky Corridor’ has sprung up to urge support for the new transitway concept. The Princeton Transitway concept may also impact the current effort to rewrite the Princeton Community Master Plan. The study calls for improved zoning, to support transit-friendly uses of land in the area.

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2 Responses to NJ Transit Releases Final Report on Study of Light Rail, Bus, Bikeway Upgrades for Princeton ‘Dinky’ Rail Line

  1. Rian Sengupta says:

    The LRT right-of-way should be extended into downtown Princeton, and shouldn’t require a transfer to a BRT system

  2. Alain says:

    Two Questions…

    1. What are the operating costs per year and per personTrip for each option?

    2. If the operating costs are greater than the fare, what source of funds will ensure that the level-of-service (the value to the community) continues into the future?

    A note on “operating costs” which pay the wages of the employees that are needed to deliver the “level-of -services”. Today NJT buses have one person per bus and the Dinly has 2. To have reliable service, these individuals need to be full-time professionals not “gig” workers. They deserve good working conditions and a good wage.s in return for the valued service they would deliver to a Walkable Princeton.

    For the buses the round trip Junction-Shopping Center-Junction is 30 minutes at best. A 5 -9 minute service would require 6 -3+ buses. To run all day, ,one needs two shifts. That’s 12 -7 drivers/day, 7 days a week. One needs a staff 18-10 professional drivers to operate the buses.

    One must assume that a substantial reason for converting the Dinky to light rail is that one only needs 1 professional to operate a light rail vehicle rather than the 2 that currently operate the Dinky. Either option can easily make the round trip in 15 minutes so the labor cost is the same for either 15 or 30 minute service. This requires 3 -6 professionals depending on the safety requirement. (Note, the biggest benefit of converting to light rail is to reduce from 6 to 3 professionals needed to provide the rail service. How many professional drivers be employed if that infrastructure costs were placed in an annuity?).

    On top of the vehicle operating costs, there are the supervisory, management and othe expenses that end up at least doubling the W-2s of the professional drivers. These are non-trivial long-term expenses that riders and everyone else walking around in Princeton benefiting from this service will need to pay for forever. Answers to the two questions above will help all of us decide how strongly we will support NJT’s propose future for the Dinky.


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