Dinky train suspended as NJ Transit installs Positive Train Control

Dinky shuttle train service in Princeton will be suspended beginning Oct. 14 and lasting into mid-January as part of other service interruptions NJ Transit has to make to meet a federal deadline to install Positive Train Control equipment.

Buses will be offered as an alternative seven days a week, NJ Transit announced. In addition, the price of rail fares will be cut by 10 percent in November, December and January.

NJ Transit has until Dec. 31 to install federally mandated Positive Train Control “hardware,” a high-tech way to improve rail safety by automatically slowing down and controlling train movements to safeguard against human error. The work includes installing technology on trains and along the side of the track, NJ Transit said on its website.

“The contract for PTC was let in 2011 and for seven years only 12 percent of it was done,” NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said on Sept. 21. “I would have to assume some people just didn’t believe the (Federal Railroad Administration) was serious about its deadline.”

Seven months into his new position, Corbett has said the job is more than two-thirds complete, but more work needs to be completed before the end of the year, which means disruptions in Princeton and elsewhere.

“Part of it is doing the right-of-way, being able to turn off a catenary, do all sorts of work that you would not be able to do if a catenary was live for that stretch,” he said. “We have used a bus bridge before for service from Princeton to Princeton junction.”

Princeton Council President Jenny Crumiller said on Sept. 21 that she wanted to know more about why the train will be suspended for so long.

“It seems like a long time to have the train be out of service,” she said. “I’d just like an explanation for why it’s going to take three months.”

Service disruptions are coming for NJ Transit train lines around the state. Aside from the Dinky, the impacts for the Northeast Corridor include temporarily discontinuing a weekday Trenton to New York train that arrives in Penn Station at 10:42 a.m. and a weekday New York to Trenton train that arrives in Trenton at 5:17 p.m. A third Northeast Corridor train will also be discontinued temporarily, but the change has no impact on Princeton commuters since the train ends farther up the line.

The Dinky runs between the Princeton University campus and Princeton Junction, where rail riders can make their connection to the Northeast Corridor.

NJ Transit and the university, however, gave conflicting public statements about when the university was notified about the Dinky being suspended.

“We learned Thursday about NJ Transit’s plans to suspend Dinky service as it makes important safety improvements across its rail system,” Princeton spokesman Michael Hotchkiss said by email on Sept. 21. “We look forward to working with the agency to address the transportation needs of the university community.”

NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said on Sept. 21 that “we informed Princeton University (Sept. 19) consistent to when we informed other community leaders throughout the state.”