The Dinky train service from campus to Princeton Junction station is set to return by the end of the second quarter, according to New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti made the announcement at a meeting of local representatives and town residents at the Dinky Station on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Gutierrez-Scaccetti spent the majority of the meeting with Executive Director of NJ Transit Kevin Corbett fielding questions from town residents.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti emphasized multiple times that NJ Transit had no exact date for when the Dinky would return between now and June 30.
“If you press me on a date, I’m not going to give that to you because I’m not comfortable yet,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “I know you’ve been bearing with us since September.”
Corbett and Gutierrez-Scaccetti attempted to reassure the town residents that the Dinky was not gone forever.
“There’s no sinister plot here to not restore the service,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.
However, the most vocal of the town members in attendance did not express feelings of reassurance. One town member at the meeting said that if the Dinky did not return by next fall, there would be “hell to pay.”
According to the Mayor of Princeton, Liz Lempert, the town has plans to shut down Alexander Road in the fall to replace two bridges. That closure would lengthen bus commutes to Princeton Junction significantly.
“It would be so disastrous if it weren’t brought back before June,” said Lempert. “To think that you would have a bus service that could even get you during rush hour to meet a train is non-realistic.”
Since October, the Dinky service has been replaced by buses from campus to Princeton Junction. Those buses have caused a number of commuters to miss their train connections.
Corbett and Gutierrez-Scaccetti said that the main factor delaying the Dinky’s return was a shortage of engineers.
“People have retired since the end of September. We have no one to replace them with,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “I wish I could go to California and bring a bunch of engineers and have them run the New Jersey Transit system, but … it takes a good 12 months on our tracks to understand our system.”
According to Gutierrez-Scaccetti, NJ Transit plans to graduate 43 new engineers by the end of the year.
“Even though it doesn’t sound like that much, the difference of 20 engineers has a multiplier effect,” said Corbett. “It does make a big difference.”
The reason NJ Transit initially gave for the Dinky’s suspension was to install Positive Train Control. According to Lempert, those changes were completed in December.
“We all thought the services would be restored sometime in January … that deadline came and went, and now we’re into the second quarter,” Lempert said. “It’s hard to 100 percent believe what we’re being told.”
Corbett and Gutierrez-Scaccetti said they were attempting to make up for past mistakes. They said their focus would be on meeting deadlines and improving communication between NJ Transit and their commuters.
“We had a slow start in terms of making sure we were out there communicating as we should,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “We were properly admonished by the governor who was very disappointed in us for not doing a better job.”
Nonetheless, both Corbett and Gutierrez-Scaccetti said they were “moving in the right” direction with communication, focusing on transparency.
Lempert said that she and other legislators would continue to be in dialogue with NJ Transit. She also acknowledged how important the Dinky was for both town members and students.
“It’s part of what makes Princeton the place that it is. It connects us to the outer world,” Lempert said. “We just want it fixed.”