An appeal is pending, but the appeal will not be heard until sometime in the fall.
"Given the nature of the issues and the importance of the historic resource – an operating passenger railroad station that currently serves over 1,000 passengers daily – a stay is not only appropriate but in the public interest," according to Save the Dinky's application. "A stay will preserve the subject matter of the appeal and preserve confidence in the neutrality of the administrative processes that have been established under law to protect New Jersey’s historic and environmental resources.”
The Dinky transports commuters from downtown Princeton to the Princeton Junction train station.
Princeton University, which purchased the land containing the station and the surrounding areas in 1984, is in the midst of construction to move the station 460 feet south of its current location. The University claims it is within its legal rights to move the station, and the NJ Transit Board of Directors approved a land transfer with the University that cleared the way for the Dinky train relocation in June.
The dismantling of the existing station and shortening of the track could begin within days. NJ Transit plans to stop current Dinky station service on Saturday, Aug. 24 to prepare for the shortened ride to begin on Monday, Aug. 26.
According to Save the Dinky's emergency application, the project will "have an irreversible and catastrophic effect on the station by ending the station’s transportation function, removing its character defining elements, and destroying a railroad right-of-way dating back to 1865, through abandonment and conversion to non-rail use.
Save the Dinky filed its application with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and with Rich Boornazian, assistant commissioner for historic and natural resources, who approved NJ Transit’s request to move the existing station south to accommodate Princeton University's development plans.
The Princeton Station was built in 1918 and was placed on the state Register of Historic Places in March 1984 as part of a listing of “Operating Passenger Railroad Stations in New Jersey.”
NJ Transit sold the station property to the University in October 1984, but retained an easement to preserve the use of the property for public transportation. NJ Transit told historic site regulators at the DEP last year that the sale contract obligated it to move the terminus at the University’s request and that, with the proposed move to a location opposite the University’s Lot 7 garage, its easement will expire in five years.
Boornazian’s ruling allowed NJ Transit to terminate the easement ahead of time so that the University can build a road over the train right- of- way for employee access to the Lot 7 garage. Early termination will also permit the University dismantle and redevelop the station without having to comply with state historic site regulations. The regulations apply to government property, including property protected by easements, not to property owned by private parties.
Anita Garoniak, President of Save the Dinky, said the group wants to preserve the status quo so that “there is still a station that can operate and a right-of-way to the station” when the appeals court hears the case.
Save the Dinky is also pursuing three other legal actions to try to save the Princeton Station as an operating in-town train station. Those include:
- In the fall of 2011, filing a suit in the NJ Chancery Division seeking a ruling that the 1984 contract did not give the University a right to move the station. In June, the Chancery court denied a University attempt to dismiss the case, ruling that SDKY and the plaintiffs have standing on the meaning of the contract, but not to enforce the easement.
- On August 8, along with the NJ Association of Railroad Passengers, the group appealed a June NJ Transit Board decision authorizing its staff to transfer its public transportation easement on the Station to the University. The appeal argues that state law required NJ Transit to hold a hearing before abandoning the station and easement.
- Filed a comment to support a federal Surface Transportation Board Petition filed in June by NJ-ARP and the National Association of Railroad Passengers asking for a ruling that NJ Transit and the University need federal approval before abandoning the station.