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Updated: Save the Dinky challenge to Dinky move dismissed by state court

A conductor boards the Dinky at the old Princeton Station in spring 2012 before the relocation of the station to Alexander Road.

A conductor boards the Dinky at the old Princeton Station in spring 2012 before the relocation of the station to Alexander Road.

Following a ruling issued by the Superior Court of New Jersey on Dec. 23 dismissing a case challenging the University’s right to move the Dinky train station, plaintiffs said they are considering whether to appeal the ruling. They have until Feb. 6 to appeal to the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court, attorney Philip Rosenbach said, who represented the plaintiffs.

The University plans to relocate the Dinky station 460 feet south of its previous location. The citizens’ group Save the Dinky, along with several other local residents, filed a suit in October 2011 claiming that the University did not have the right to move the station. Judge Paul Innes has now dismissed their case.

The ruling resolves one of six pending lawsuits challenging the move of the Dinky station. Other suits challenge the various legal approvals that local authorities granted for the project and the University’s process of obtaining them.

As construction of the $330 million Arts and Transit project has already begun, the Dinky station has been temporarily relocated to a wooden structure 1,200 feet south of its former location. The University purchased the Dinky station from NJ Transit in 1984.

Plaintiffs argued in a Nov. 1 hearing that the sales agreement made in 1984 does not grant the University the authority to move the station and that the move constitutes an abandonment of the easement that allows public access to the station.

Innes’ ruling deems this claim “unsupported.”

“Princeton University’s plans proposed moving the train station a mere 460 feet. The station will remain on the Dinky station property,” the ruling read. “There has been no abandonment of the easement.”

Innes’ ruling states that the sales agreement only gave the University authority to propose alterations to the easement, not the authority to alter it. Since NJ Transit has expressed approval of the University’s proposed move, the court finds that the University has the authority to execute it.

“I consider this a significant victory,” said Jonathan Epstein, the attorney representing the University in the case. Epstein is a partner at the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, which represents the University on transit-related issues.

The Dec. 23 ruling dismissed the last of three counts, which the plaintiffs filed in October 2011.

In August 2012, the court dismissed a count claiming that years of public access to the Dinky have established a prescriptive easement affording the public the right to access the Dinky at its former terminus. The University filed a motion in May 2013 to dismiss another count claiming that the 1984 sales agreement created an explicit easement for public access to the Dinky solely at its former terminus. Innes denied this in June on the premise that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the move.

In August 2013, a few days before the Arts and Transit construction began, the plaintiffs requested a stay that would temporarily block the construction. Innes denied this in September.

While Rosenbach declined to comment on his personal reaction to the ruling, he said he and his clients were pleased by Innes’ ruling that the University was required to get approval from NJ Transit for the move.

“These types of important decisions involving public transportation should be made by a public body, and not by a private body,” Rosenbach said. “To us, it’s very important that the judge recognize [this].”

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