By Philip Sean Curran
NJ Transit has been “non-committal” about when the Dinky shuttle train will start running again, now that the transportation agency has met a deadline to install safety equipment across its system, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said this week.
“I plan to call them every day from now until I get a positive answer,” Lempert said at the Dec. 17 Princeton Council meeting.
NJ Transit faced a Dec. 31 deadline, set by the federal government, to install Positive Train Control (PTC) to make rail transportation safer. According to the agency, the system automatically can control a train’s speed and movements.
As part of that installation, NJ Transit said it needed to use the manpower and equipment from the Dinky. Bus service has been offered as an alternative since the Dinky was suspended in October.
Previously, the agency has targeted mid-January to resume Dinky service, Lempert has said.
The Dinky runs from the Princeton University campus to the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor, where riders can board trains on the Northeast Corridor. Through a spokesman, the university declined to comment on Dec. 18.
“We are looking to restore service on the Dinky as quickly as possible,” NJ Transit spokeswoman Kate Thompson said on Dec. 18. “NJ Transit rail service planners are currently evaluating the schedule for restoring regular service to the Atlantic City rail line, the Princeton branch (the Dinky), weekend Gladstone service and other lines, since we have met the federal equipment installation milestone. We are still intending to restore service as fast as possible following this successful meeting of the federally mandated end-of-year PTC installation deadlines.”
NJ Transit said this week it has installed PTC on 280 locomotive and cab cars and 326 miles of “wayside infrastructure” such as radios and poles. The agency said that in the next two years, it will install PTC on 158 more trains, finish employee training and test the system, all by the end of 2020.
Last month, Lempert appealed to NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin S. Corbett to restore Dinky service immediately or before the middle of January, a request Corbett rejected.
Lempert has expressed concern about a “long-term negative impact” on Dinky ridership. She has said that during the time the Dinky is not running, “people can create new habits and so you’re having this sort of short-term fix with long-term negative implications for the Dinky line.”
“I think they would use a car,” she told reporters in October.
The chairman of the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities committee applauded NJ Transit for meeting its Dec. 31 deadline.
“Commuters will be happy to know the project’s completion should free up resources and hopefully reduce cancellations, and begin restoring service to riders who were inconvenienced while work was underway,” Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson (D-Mercer and Middlesex) said on Dec. 17.
“Once Positive Train Control is fully operational, hopefully by the end of 2020, commuters can be assured our railways are safer … NJ Transit riders have had to endure many challenges while the agency worked to complete this very important work,” Benson said.
The announcement about PTC came during the same week lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation to reform the transportation agency. Among other things, the legislation calls for creating a new 13-member Board of Directors to include commuter representatives and requiring the agency to submit a two-year-budget by every April 1, among other steps.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has been critical of NJ Transit and has pledged to improve the agency.