Tuesday, June 25, 2013

STB urged to halt Princeton Dinky truncation

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Two advocacy groups on Monday, June 24, 2013 filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board to block New Jersey Transit Corp. and Princeton University from hacking away at NJT's Princeton Branch, a branch line linking its namesake town with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

The filing, Docket No. FD-35745-0, was submitted by the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), based in Raritan, N.J., and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, based in Washington D.C. The filing comes ahead of a special NJ Transit Board of Directors teleconference meeting being held Tuesday to advance the cutback plan.

NJ-ARP and NARP argue that the cutback of the Princeton Branch, also known as the "Dinky," moves the station terminus away from users and the Princeton downtown district without STB jurisdiction of the federal agency over abandonments of railroad lines in interstate commerce. The petition calls on STB to declare its jurisdiction over the Princeton Branch, and to require that any reduction in its length be undertaken only with the federal body's express approval.

Princeton University seeks to move the station and shorten the branch by 460 feet to accommodate a $320 million arts and transit project. The two existing station buildings would be converted into a cafe and restaurant.

"Much more is involved than cutting back the track by 460 feet, which is what the University has asked the public to believe," says NJ-ARP Director Phil Craig. The current station is approximately 1,300 feet from downtown Princeton, while the new station would be 2,000 feet by foot from Nassau Street and a half-mile from Palmer Square, Princeton's focal point, Craig says.

"Moving the Princeton Station downhill and away from the population center would be to the detriment of NJ Transit's passengers, most particularly the disabled, senior citizens and – because of isolation of the proposed new station location – people who use the train at night," Craig said. "The longer uphill walk will be especially difficult during inclement weather, when many passengers have to slog through snow, ice or rain."

Adds NJ-ARP Vice President Jack May, "New Jersey Transit is the guardian of the interests of New Jersey's traveling public. It should not be attempting to hand Princeton University this valuable public transportation asset."

University officials have repeatedly rejected alternate plans, insisting the station move is necessary to create a second access road to its large parking garage that currently has limited access.