A petition proposed by two railroad passenger associations challenging New Jersey Transit’s jurisdiction over the Dinky Line and its surrounding buildings was denied by the Surface Transportation Board last week.
The petition was put forward by the New Jersey and National Associations of Railroad Passengers after the University decided to construct a new Dinky station south of its original location due to the Arts and Transit Project, which requires the removal of 460 feet of track. The project also involves repurposing the existing station as a café.
If approved, the petition would have required the Transportation Board to authorize track shortening and the abandonment of any railroad station buildings, potentially modifying the University’s construction plans.
“We are gratified by the Surface Transportation Board’s decision that New Jersey Transit does not need the Board’s authorization to relocate the station,” University spokesperson Martin Mbugua said in response to the decision.
“We’re very disappointed that the Surface Transportation Board ruled against us,” New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers member Jack May said.
Petitioners argued that changes to the trackage and facilities of the Princeton Branch should be under the Board’s jurisdiction according to the legal definition of the Board’s responsibilities. The Dinky Line connects to NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor, which provides further access to stations in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware (other places too) through Amtrak.
However, in its final decision, the Board ruled that the Dinky Line does not match the legal definition for its jurisdiction, stating that NJ Transit’s service counts as mass transportation provided by a local government authority. The Board asserts that NJ Transit is a public corporation formed by state statute in 1979, and that the Princeton Branch’s eventual connection to Amtrak does not entitle the Board to jurisdiction.
“It is our opinion that the Board is saying that there is no federal jurisdiction over the operations of any mass rail transportation service in the country,” May said, adding that this decision may signal to other governmental agencies that they are not subject to strict regulations. “The cutting back of the Princeton line’s service is detrimental to the transportation system of the United States,” he explained, noting that such weak regulation may discourage commuters from traveling by rail.
May said that the NJ-ARP is not opposed to the University’s Arts and Transit Project, but that it believes the project could have been initiated without “decapitating” the Dinky Line.
Save the Dinky, a local organization advocating for the preservation of the historic train station, and Christopher Hedges, a local who regularly uses the rail service, announced their support for the petition earlier this month. In particular, Save the Dinky provided comments against the absence of any public procedure to abandon the line’s freight obligation. On the same day, NJ Transit requested the Board dismiss the petition.
The NJ-ARP, the NARP and Save the Dinky have not yet decided whether to appeal the case.
The board’s decision appears several weeks after the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to review another Dinky lawsuit. Save The Dinky demanded that the court review the Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to relinquish the Dinky’s public rights to NJ Transit.
Despite this recent setback, Save the Dinky will continue to pursue two other lawsuits related to the Dinky Line, according to a press release.
“Save the Dinky still has two irons in the fire,” May noted.