Most students can probably remember getting excited about trains when they were younger. A kid is almost guaranteed to smile, whether riding a train or simply watching one pass.
On Thursday, the Dinky drew a similar reaction even among battle-hardened commuters.
From Thursday through this morning, New Jersey Transit tested a prototype rail car, known as a diesel multiple unit (DMU), on the Dinky line from Princeton to Princeton Junction.
New Jersey Transit hopes to receive a federal grant to introduce the new model to some of its lines, according to Jeffrey Marinoff, second vice chair for the South Jersey Transit Advisory Committee.
The DMU has been designed to be more attractive and comfortable than the current Dinky.
"This car is great for an area like Princeton," said Arthur Rader, director of sales for Colorado Railcar, which manufactures the prototype. "The only way to get a guy out of his Lexus and into commuter rail is to give him something that looks like his Lexus."
Rather than the cramped seats found on current New Jersey Transit trains, the custom-built DMU can include anything from reclining leather seats to four-person booths with tables.
It also features dome windows, an optional business-class service bar and spaciously designed restrooms that are wheelchair accessible.
Although the car appears much more luxurious, its cost — $2.9 million — is comparable to other diesel models, Rader said. Its operating cost, however, is significantly less.
The DMU, which runs on diesel rather than electric lines, uses only a third as much fuel as other diesel locomotives — a major benefit for both taxpayers and environmentalists.
Colorado Railcar's model is also the first self-propelled computer railcar that meets the Federal Railroad Administration's safety requirements fully, including an 800,000-pound end compression test.
Although it is still uncertain when — or even if — the DMU will appear on New Jersey Transit lines, the prototype has already generated excitement among travelers. Jonathan Woolley, a Rutgers graduate student and former Bergen County liaison to the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, was particularly impressed.
"I think it's great," said Woolley, a self-described "heavy train buff" who came to Princeton just to ride the prototype.
Rader emphasized that Colorado Railcar's models are made in the United States, except the transmission and part of the generator.
"We strongly believe taxpayers' money should go to Americans and not overseas," he said.
Thursday's demonstration was part of a tour that took the railcar throughout the United States and Canada.
After making one more stop, the model will return to Florida, where it is part of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority's commuter fleet.
Although commuter responses to the demo Dinky were overwhelmingly positive, there were also critics.
"What we need are beds and pillows and stuff," declared one young child.
But he was smiling anyway.