The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) and local Princeton residents have gone to court to stop New Jersey Transit from cutting off 460 feet of the Princeton Branch, known locally as the “Dinky” because it is less than 3 miles long. These cases are still pending, but NJT has relocated the Princeton station and started to remove the tracks and overhead wire, anyway. The nation’s shortest commuter rail line connects with the Northeast Corridor (NEC) main line at Princeton Junction and takes riders to Princeton. It originally went to downtown Princeton, but not anymore.
The NJT Board of Directors called a special meeting for the sole purpose of approving a land swap with Princeton University, which wanted the land for development that would include a parking deck. Despite opposition from some Princeton residents and NJ-ARP, the proposal was approved and the station was relocated on August 26. NJ-ARP Director Philip G. Craig complained that the new station is 1,200 feet of walking distance from the old one.
NJ-ARP and other parties mounted three legal challenges to the truncation of the line. NJ-ARP and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board (STB), asking it to assume jurisdiction in the matter. NJ-ARP, along with Save the Dinky, Inc., and Princeton resident Anne Newmann, filed an action in the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court on August 8, alleging that NJT failed to hold the required public hearing before an “abandonment or substantial curtailment” of service. In a related case, the same parties asked the Chancery Division of Superior Court for an injunction that would prevent NJT from removing the section of track until a court hearing could be held. The request was denied because Princeton University offered to pay for the replacement of the track if plaintiffs eventually won on the issue, according to NJ-ARP sources. The parties are due back in court on Oct. 13, but Craig said that the “new facts on the ground” have already been established.
NJ-ARP Vice-President Jack May said that NJT’s decision “represents a breach of NJ Transit’s statutory obligations to the traveling public” and “enables the abandonment of rail service and the destruction of an historic station” which should not have been implemented without a full public hearing.
The Lackawanna Coalition has expressed its support for NJ-ARP and its allies, as well as its concern that NJT acted hastily without allowing appropriate public participation in a process that makes mobility more difficult for transit riders. We called NJT to hear their side of the story, but they did not respond by press time.