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.
PRINCETON TRANSITWAY STUDY PRELIMINARY CONCEPT ANALYSIS 11.21.2022 (via njtransit.com)