New Jersey Transit’s newest train station opens today in Princeton, replacing one less than 500 feet north. The station connects Princeton University’s campus to the Northeast Corridor rail line via Princeton Junction station, with easy access to New York and Philadelphia.
The 2.9 mile four minute journey to campus is serviced by a two car train that locals simply call “The Dinky,” the shortest regularly scheduled passenger train in the nation. The new building is already being called the “new Dinky station” by most locals.
By moving the stop a little south, it allows room for Princeton University to build a 21-acre Arts and Transit District, a $330 million complex that will feature three new buildings dedicated to music, dance, and drama. The arts complex will be located near Princeton’s McCarter Theater, a professional theater which also attracts performers on national tours.
The arts complex will also mean the convenience store Wawa next to the old train stop is also moving just a few hundred yards to the South. The new “Wa,” as the students affectionately call it, will have double the amount of floor space. WaWa is scheduled to open in its new location on Nov 21. The building currently housing the Wawa will be demolished after the move.
The new Dinky station will certainly be more distinctive than the one it replaces. Designed by Tuscon-based architect Rick Joy, the station’s angled black steel roof juts abruptly into the air, supported by thick concrete pillars. “It is very modern-looking,” said Kristin Appelget, director of community and regional affairs for the Princeton University. “I have been in the space and I can tell you, I believe it’s quite beautiful. It’s quite elegant and quite simple, and very functional.”
Although the tracks have been removed, the old Dinky station itself will be renovated into a restaurant and café. The University has chosen Terra Momo Restaurant Group to operate the pair of eateries, which are scheduled to open mid to late 2015. Terra Momo operates such popular local restaurants as Eno Terra, Teresa Cafe and Mediterra.
This is not the first major move for the Dinky, which used to bring passengers to the steps of Blair Hall, a short walk to downtown Princeton. The original station was opened in 1865, but was moved southward in 1918 to make room for the construction of new university dormitories. Other than photographs, the only reminder of the original station is a lone stone mile marker near Blair that proudly proclaims “0” miles to Princeton Station.
Latest move had opponents
The Dinky’s move has not gone over well with some town residents. The new station is a culmination of a years-long debate between University officials, town officials, and members of the community, with some residents arguing that the new station will inconvenience commuters.
Kip Cherry, secretary of the citizens group Save the Dinky, was born and raised in Princeton and worries that the more southern location will cause riders to stop walking to the station and instead choose to drive straight to Princeton Junction. “When you’re a commuter, every minute counts,” she said, adding that many of the riders are older and find it difficult to walk long distances. “By relocating the Dinky station, we’re making it more difficult for riders to use the train.”
While Save the Dinky is still waging a legal battle to stop construction, the group’s main focus is now to pressure the University to create incentives to use the train, said Cherry. Ridership of the train dropped by over 10 percent immediately following the Dinky’s move to the wooden-platform that has served as a temporary station since August 2013, according to numbers released by NJ Transit. Although this number does not include commuters taking the free University-provided bus between campus and Princeton Junction Station.
Other objections involve the effects the renovations may have on the historic station that is listed on the National Registers of Historic Places. Again, the train station, which encompasses two buildings, is being turned into two restaurants. ”This represents a plan that selfishly seeks to advance a few interests of the university at the cost of destroying a significant part of the physical town,” said Bruce Afran, a resident of Princeton and a lawyer who is currently pursuing two lawsuits against the project on behalf of residents.
The University sees the entire project as benefiting the school and the surrounding community. Princeton University’s Appelget says the new Dinky station will be nicer, more functional, and improve traffic flow, while the arts center will provide a cultural resource for the town.