Thousands of students use rail transportation every semester to commute into New York City and Philadelphia for internships, nightlife, and other events. While the University advertises that these major metropolitan hubs are “easily accessible” by train, an analysis of schedules reveals that commuting times can vary significantly depending on the day of the week and time of day.
Princeton’s connection to the outside world comes in the form of rail transportation provided by New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit). According to NJ Transit’s Princeton Transitway Study, the Dinky had approximately 500 weekly riders connecting Princeton’s campus and the Princeton Junction station in the 2020 fiscal year. Through the Dinky, commuter rail trains to New York City, and connecting trains to Philadelphia provided by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), University community members have over 600 weekly options to and from the two metro areas within a two-hour commute.
While on the weekdays, the average commuting time to New York City is faster than that of Philadelphia, on the weekends, the average train time to Philadelphia is faster. On the weekdays, the longer commute to Philadelphia can be explained by a longer transfer time at the Trenton station. For savvy travelers, there are ways to minimize to choose an itinerary with a shorter transit time, whether through less time spent waiting at Princeton Junction or Trenton or by taking an express train with fewer stops.
To determine the fastest trains to and from New York and Philadelphia, The Daily Princetonian analyzed the schedules provided by both NJ Transit and SEPTA. We matched each Dinky to a connecting NJ Transit train to New York Penn Station. Similarly, we matched each Dinky to a pair of NJ Transit and SEPTA trains to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. We then performed the same analysis in reverse for return trips and differentiated between weekday and weekend schedules.
On weekdays, the fastest train to New York is the 8:09 a.m. departure from Princeton Station and the 8:20 a.m. departure from Princeton Junction, scheduled to arrive at Penn Station at 9:16 a.m. for a total travel time of 1 hour and 7 minutes. On weekdays, the average trip time between Princeton and New York is 1 hour and 25 minutes, while the average return time is 1 hour and 24 minutes. The fastest return trip from New York on weekdays is the 5:03 p.m. departure from Penn Station and its connecting 6:00 p.m. Dinky, arriving at Princeton Station at 6:05 p.m. for a total travel time of 1 hour and 2 minutes.
The connecting train to New York from the 8:09 a.m. Dinky makes no intermediate stops between Princeton Junction and Newark Penn Station. Genevieve Cox ’25 takes this route on her semi-weekly commute and mentioned her satisfaction with the train pair, remarking how “it is also rarely late and more frequently arrives earlier to Newark Penn than scheduled.”
Trips to Philadelphia generally take longer than those to New York, due to the connection to SEPTA in Trenton. On weekdays, the average trip to Philadelphia from Princeton takes 1 hour and 44 minutes, 17 minutes longer than the average trip to New York. The fastest trip to Philadelphia departs from Princeton Station at 9:24 a.m. and arrives at 30th Street Station at 10:47 a.m. for a total travel time of 1 hour and 23 minutes. Travellers that start their journey at 4:53 a.m., however can expect to spend 2 hours and 24 minutes in transit, making it the analyzed route with the most variation. On the way back to campus, the fastest trip from Philadelphia takes 1 hour and 21 minutes, departing from 30th Street Station at 9:44 a.m. and arriving at Princeton Station at 11:05 a.m. The average return trip on weekdays takes 1 hour and 46 minutes.
The situation is reversed on weekends, with trips to Philadelphia taking 1 hour and 29 minutes on average, two minutes less than the average trip to New York. This change is a recent development brought about by new train schedules; previous NJ Transit timetables had layovers of nearly an hour in Trenton, which have since been reduced to just five minutes.
The quickest trip to Philadelphia on weekends is the 8:24 p.m. departure from Princeton Station, taking 1 hour and 17 minutes to travel to Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, while the fastest train to New York on weekends is the 3:25 p.m. Dinky, arriving at Penn Station 1 hour and 21 minutes later at 4:46 p.m. However, weekend return trips from Philadelphia — all of which clock in between 1 hour and 57 minutes and 1 hour and 59 minutes — take much longer than those from New York, which average 1 hour and 23 minutes.
As the Dinky stops running before the end of NJ Transit service on the main Northeast Corridor line, many students seeking to leave New York or Philadelphia late at night may find themselves stranded at Princeton Junction with no Dinky available to take them back to campus. Beyond identifying the fastest trips to New York and Philadelphia, the ‘Prince’ also gathered data on the last trains to leave these cities that have a matching Dinky connection.
After a late night in New York City, Nick Masters ’25 arrived at Princeton Junction around 3 a.m. and walked back to campus via the Dinky tracks.
“My phone was dead so I decided to take the route I knew would 100 [percent] get me back on campus,” Masters said. “Not a horrible experience, but not one I recommend for the easily spooked.”
On weekday evenings, the final train to depart from New York Penn Station with connecting Dinky service is the 12:14 a.m. departure, connecting with the 1:37 a.m. Dinky. On weekends, plan to leave earlier; the 11:14 p.m. departure is the final train out of New York that connects to a Dinky — in this case, the 12:35 a.m. departure from Princeton Junction. When visiting Philadelphia, plan to depart from 30th Street Station by 11:44 p.m. on weekdays and as early as 9:42 p.m. on the weekends to avoid being left at the Junction.
The simple, five-minute Dinky shuttle connects Princeton with a web of trains to New York, Philadelphia, and beyond. Analyzing the schedules can help riders choose itineraries that get them to their destinations faster — and avoid being stranded at Princeton Junction.
Ryan Konarska is an Assistant Data Editor for the ‘Prince.’ He is a sophomore majoring in public and international affairs and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.