On March 9 Marvin Reed, chairman of Princeton Borough’s Regional Planning Board Master Plan Subcommittee, proposed eliminating the Dinky train in favor of a bus service that would use the same path as the 145-year-old service that connects Princeton Junction station with the Princeton University campus. He presented the plan as a solution to growing debate over whether to move the campus station 460 feet south from its present site across from McCarter Theater on University Place, near Alexander Road.
Plans to move the station in favor of the university’s planned arts and transit village at the foot of McCarter Theater have been in the works since 2008, but have met with much opposition from those who say moving the station farther from the downtown flies directly in the face of residents’ overwhelming wishes that the station should be closer to Nassau Street.
Using a shuttle bus service that runs along the Dinky’s right of way, Reed said, means that the buses would bypass stop lights, packed intersections, and congested roads. A bus also would be able to do the one thing the Dinky cannot — go downtown.
The Dinky, which connects Princeton University to Princeton Junction in less than four minutes, cannot go past the station toward Nassau Street. Many have wished that the station were closer to Nassau, rather than at the other end of the campus. The Dinky also has long lag times, sitting idle at the campus station for as much as a half-hour.
Reed and Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes say a shuttle bus could drop off riders at the campus, venture to Nassau Street, and make other stops, thereby giving commuters direct access to the downtown and more options on where to catch a ride. Reed and Wilkes said a shuttle bus would also solve the issue of where to put the station by eliminating the need for it in the first place.
Those who oppose moving or closing the station seem most worried about the loss of tradition and the possibility that a bus service will simply not be fast enough for some commuters to make connecting trains. The Dinky travels up to 60 mph in its three-mile journey; it is not clear how fast a shuttle bus would travel.
The original plan to move the Dinky station incorporated a shuttle bus that, according to the university and New Jersey Transit, would supplement, not replace, the train. The plan also describes a connecting service from the Dinky station to Nassau Street.
Officials also tout a bus service’s reliability. The inherent problems of train travel were made evident last weekend, when a nor’easter shut down Dinky service while the tracks were cleared of detritus.