At its June 26 meeting, the Lackawanna Coalition learned about a plan for the Princeton Dinky, the short branch that NJ Transit runs as a shuttle between Princeton Junction on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) line and the vicinity of the Princeton University campus, first suggested in May 2021, but ignored by decision-makers.
The proposal comes from Henry Posner III, a Princeton alumnus, now chairman of Pittsburgh-based Railroad Development Corp. (RDC). Posner says that his plan, based on joint ventures, focuses on “Emerging Networks in Emerging Markets.” One such “Emerging Market” is Princeton, where he proposes the “TigerTrain.” He already has the train: a battery-operated unit in orange-and-black livery (also Princeton’s “Tiger” colors), which is currently making demonstration runs in Pennsylvania.
In his presentation, Posner complained about several aspects of the current Dinky service: decreasing ridership; a schedule oriented toward travel to New York, not to Trenton and points south; “low focus on the local market”; and periodic service suspensions, which he says “reflect low priority” in NJ Transit’s statewide system. He provided examples of long waits at Princeton Junction for trains to Trenton, where riders going to Philadelphia had additional waiting time. He noted that, since 2016, NEC ridership increased by 12.7%, while ridership on the shuttle dropped by 13.5%.
The Dinky became “dinkier” by 460 feet when the current Princeton station opened in 2014, despite an unsuccessful court challenge by the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP). The line currently runs with Arrow III electric cars built in the late 1970s, but NJ Transit plans to replace that equipment within the next few years. There is now a proposal under discussion for turning the right- of-way into a “transitway” to be shared by buses and light-rail vehicles.
Posner says his TigerTrain model would improve service: it would run four times an hour through the day, focus on commuters to Princeton, and eventually extend the line to Trenton on a new track to be built. He’d straighten the curve at Princeton Junction and calls his proposed operation a “transit shuttle”: not commuter rail, but like the Times Square Shuttle in New York City.
Posner suggests a for-profit corporate structure with local shareholders in a public-private partnership. Through- ticketing with NJ Transit and possibly SEPTA in Philadelphia (which runs to Trenton) would continue; he is flexible about a revenue-sharing arrangement. He has proposed buying or leasing the line, including adjacent real estate rights and assets.
He proposes using rolling stock that originally ran on the London Underground, converted for battery power, under the brand name Vivarail. His demonstration train, delivered to this country in April 2021, is an example. Different power sources could also be used.
Posner calls his model Pop-Up Metro: a plan for building and initiating service on new lines quickly and
inexpensively. An ongoing effort would use it to re-establish service to West Chester, PA, on a former SEPTA line that last hosted passenger trains in 1986. If the model can be used to implement new starts quickly and at low cost, there could be more such starts.
CORRECTION: The title and first paragraph have been edited to reflect the fact that this proposal is new to us, but not a new proposal—the first presentation by Mr. Posner to decision-makers was in May 2021.