Princeton and state officials celebrate the Dinky back on track

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The Dinky is back on track.

Local and state politicians and NJ Transit officials were on hand to celebrate and greet the return of the shuttle train Tuesday afternoon in Princeton.

The grand re-opening celebration occurred two days after the Dinky’s first run, which was Sunday, May 12. It had been out of service since October 2018 because crews were needed to help install a high-tech safety system on the NJ Transit rail lines.

The shuttle train, dubbed the Dinky, was expected to be put back in service by mid-January, and then by the end of May – but service was restored two weeks earlier than the May 24 target date.

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert kicked off the celebration at the Princeton Train Station on Alexander Street by thanking the commuters for their patience. NJ Transit substituted a bus for the Dinky while it was out of service.

“This is such an important transportation line,” Mayor Lempert said, adding that the “pain” of not having it in service was deeply felt. There were more people driving cars in its absence, she said.

The Dinky will play an even more important role when three Alexander Street bridges are shut down for several months for repairs later in the year, Mayor Lempert said. Motorists will not be able to drive to the Princeton Junction train station.

“Hooray, the Dinky is back,” Mayor Lempert said to applause from the attendees.

The Dinky, which is also known as the Princeton Branch, has been in service since 1863. The rail line originally provided freight and passenger service, but now it provides passenger service only between Princeton and the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor Township.

State Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex) said it is not possible for New Jersey to move forward without a strong public transportation system.

Benson, who chairs the state Assembly Transportation Committee, said there is no substitute for having the Dinky back in service. He encouraged attendees to “get the word out” that the Dinky has been restored and to use it.

State Senator Kip Bateman (R-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset) said the Dinky is “an important link in our transportation system” and that it is not a Democrat or Republican issue.

There was a lot of anxiety over whether the Dinky would ever come back, said state Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset).

“How it is possible that the shortest train line in the United States is so important? It is part of Princeton’s history overall. I am happy to make sure the Dinky was restored,” Freiman said.

Just as state Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset) was about to offer his remarks, a voice on the public address system announced that “there is two minutes until the train leaves” – an announcement that Mayor Lempert said is “music to our ears.”

Zwicker resumed his remarks and asked the attendees to imagine what a mass transit system in News Jersey would look like, and pointed to the Dinky. The Dinky is a symbol of where NJ Transit is headed, he said.

Wrapping up the grand re-opening celebration, Paul Wyckoff, the chief of government and external affairs for NJ Transit, thanked the commuters and officials for their patience while the Dinky was out of service.

“I can attest that you have very, very dedicated and interested elected officials,” Wyckoff said in a nod to the pressure put on NJ Transit by grass roots groups and local and state lawmakers to restore the Dinky.

Princeton has always been an active community, Wyckoff said, and when it advocates for something, it gives NJ Transit constructive suggestions. He urged town officials to say in touch and to let NJ Transit know about any issues that may arise.