Princeton Branch

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  Princeton Branch
New Jersey Transit Budd Arrow III 1313 on the Dinky.jpg
The "Dinky" at Princeton Junction.
Type Commuter rail
System New Jersey Transit
Locale New Jersey
Termini Princeton Junction
Stations 2
Owner New Jersey Transit
Operator(s) New Jersey Transit
Rolling stock Arrow III
Track length 4.5 km (3 mi)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Route map
Amtrak Northeast Corridor
to Newark and New York
Princeton Junction
Amtrak Northeast Corridor
to Trenton and Philadelphia
Penns Neck
Faculty Ave
Princeton (former)

The Princeton Branch is a commuter rail line and service owned and operated by New Jersey Transit (NJT) in the U.S. state of New Jersey. The line is a short branch of the Northeast Corridor Line, running from Princeton Junction northwest to Princeton with no intermediate stops. Also known as the Dinky Line, or the Princeton Junction and Back (PJ&B),[1] the branch is served by special shuttle trains. At 2.9 mi (4.7 km) it is the shortest scheduled commuter rail line in the United States.[2][3] The run takes 4 minutes, 47 seconds.[4] In conjunction with Princeton University, the Princeton Station was moved approximately 460 ft (140 m) closer to Princeton Junction in order to construct a new University Arts Center. The new station opened on 17 November 2014.[5]


When the Camden and Amboy Rail Road and Transportation Company opened its original Trenton-New Brunswick line in 1839, the line was located along the east bank of the Delaware and Raritan Canal, about one mile (2 km) from downtown Princeton.[6] The new alignment (now the Northeast Corridor Line) opened in 1863,[7] but some passenger trains continued to use the old line until the Princeton Branch opened on May 29, 1865, using a Grice & Long steam dummy for passenger service.[8]

The Pennsylvania Railroad leased and began to operate the C&A, including the Princeton Branch, in 1871.[9] Penn Central Transportation took over operations in 1968. When Conrail was formed in 1976, the Final System Plan called for the transfer of the Princeton Branch to Conrail and then to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, but the transfer to NJDOT was not made until 1984.[10]

The former Penns Neck station site in March 2016

The Princeton train, locally called the "Dinky"[11] or the "PJ&B" (for "Princeton Junction and Back"),[1] is a unique symbol of Princeton University that has grown over time to emblemize the University. It is mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise", featured in the TV program "Family Ties" when young Alex P. Keaton goes for his on-campus interview, and it is also in the 1934 Bing Crosby Movie "She Loves Me Not". The theme of Princeton and the train is repeated again in the University's own traditional homecoming song "Going Back to Nassau Hall" by Kenneth S. Clark (1905). In it, the line "We'll clear the track as we go back" refers to the Princeton Branch tracks that stop on campus.

The Great Dinky Robbery[edit]

The Great Dinky Robbery was an incident on May 3, 1963, in which four men boarded the Dinky and abducted four passengers.[12] At the time, Princeton was an all-male school and the Dinky was the primary means of transportation for women coming to the campus.[13] On a Friday evening, four Princeton University students, riding horses in Western attire, ambushed the train as it was arriving at Princeton station. A convertible was parked across the track, forcing the Dinky to come to an abrupt halt.[13] The men, including George Bunn Jr., who was armed with a pistol loaded with blanks, boarded the train and persuaded four female passengers to leave with them. The Dinky later resumed its trip and arrived at Princeton Station. Although the University administrators were aware of the event and may have known who was involved, they took no official action.[12]

Princeton Station relocation and controversy[edit]

Princeton University plans a campus expansion at the site of the branch's northern terminal station[14] that will move the station 460 feet south of its current location.[15] Rail advocates fear that access to the new station would be less convenient, resulting in decreased ridership that would "threaten the train's existence."[16] In 2010 the Princeton Regional Planning Board and New Jersey Transit (NJT) presented plans to convert the train to a Rapid Transit Bus (BRT) that would be part of a larger regional BRT system. In April 2010 a group formed on the social network site, Facebook, called Save the Princeton Dinky. It has attracted over 6,000 alumni, locals and others in support of keeping the Dinky train. The group has now become a registered New Jersey nonprofit organization with its own website, The Princeton Regional Planning Board ultimately passed a resolution supporting the continuation of train service. On October 4, 2011, by a vote of 3-2, Princeton Borough Council voted to ratify an agreement whereby Princeton University promises to fund a transit study and provide other benefits in exchange for rezoning for its "Arts and Transit" project.[17] In 2013, NJT approved a transfer of property agreement with the university involving three parcels around the station and proposed arts center.[18] At the same time the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and the National Association of Railroad Passengers petitioned the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) to review the planned move.[4] The petition asks that STB to assert its jurisdiction over the Princeton Branch and require any truncation of the line be made only with the federal agency's express approval since there is a partial abandonment of the right of way involved.[19] In July 2014 the agency found that NJT was a local provider of mass transit and not subject to its rules.[20]

The newly relocated Princeton Station opened on 17 November 2014. The relocation resulted in double digit percentage drops in ridership on the Princeton Branch. Local rail advocates are concerned that the University is not living up to promises made about promoting ridership on the Dinky line.[5]


The Princeton Branch provides rail service directly to the Princeton University campus from Princeton Junction, where New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains that go to Newark, New York City, and Philadelphia can be boarded. Peak period trains leave Princeton on weekdays between 5:59 am and 8:14 pm, approximately, and leave Princeton Junction on weekdays between 5:03 am and 8:10 pm, approximately (some trains handle both peak and off-peak commuters to and from the Northeast Corridor).[21] There are 41 departures in each direction daily. The line is served by a single or two-car set of Budd Arrow III self-propelled electric coach cars. The Federal Railroad Administration considers any power car to be a locomotive.


Princeton Station by day, June 2003

Dinky Transitway[edit]

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and New Jersey Transit are conducting studies to develop the Central New Jersey Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit Project. Part of the proposals call for the construction of the "Dinky Transitway" along the Princeton Branch right-of-way, which would incorporate the rail service and add exclusive bus lanes and a greenway for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.[22][23][24] In April 2012, the university submitted revised plans for the arts and transit center, which calls for the extension of the station house onto to right of way for possible use as restaurant. The Regional Planning Board has passed an ordinance requiring the land be preserved for a transportation right-of-way that could eventually extend farther into the central business district at Nassau Street. The new station house plans would require the board's approval before construction could start. According to the university, ownership of the trackage would have to change hands in order for the transitway to implemented.[25] While NJT has indicated that moving the station would not be detrimental to its planning and requested abandonment of that public use of the station house from the State Historic Preservation Office.[3][26] In June 2013, an agreement approved by NJT transfer between the agency and the university indicates that a new station and bus transfer facility will be constructed built by the university.[18]


Station[27] Miles (km)
from NYP
Connections / notes[27]
19 Princeton Junction Handicapped/disabled access 48.4 (77.9) 1932
BSicon BAHN.svg Amtrak: Northeast Regional, Keystone Service
BSicon BAHN.svg Bus transport NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor Line, 600, 606, 608, 612
Penns Neck
Princeton Handicapped/disabled access 51.1 (82.2) 1918


2013 Bus transport NJT Bus: 605, 609, 655
Bus transport Princeton Tiger Transit: Free B Commuter, West Line, Stanworth Line


  1. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Joel; Tom Gallo (1997). NJ Transit Rail Operations. Railpace Newsmagazine. 
  2. ^ "Picks and Pans Review: Princeton Junction & Back", People (magazine) Vol. 11 No. 13, April 2, 1979, retrieved April 15, 2012 
  3. ^ a b Schultz, Bonnie (June 2011). "Arts and Transit: NJ Transit Weighs In". Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Frassinelli, Mike (June 25, 2013). "Historic Princeton 'Dinky' line train station to move for arts center". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2013-06-26. 
  5. ^ a b Krystal Knapp. "Princeton Dinky Train Ridership: A Double-Digit Decline". Planet Princeton. Retrieved 27 April 2016. 
  6. ^ PRR Chronology, 1839 PDF (82.7 KB), June 2004 Edition
  7. ^ PRR Chronology, 1863 PDF (140 KB), June 2004 Edition
  8. ^ PRR Chronology, 1865 PDF (110 KB), June 2004 Edition
  9. ^ PRR Chronology, 1871 PDF (72.9 KB), January 2005 Edition
  10. ^ 1975 Conrail Final System Plan
  11. ^ "Princeton University: Train Travel". Princeton University. Retrieved 9 October 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Reed, J. D. (March 31, 2002). "The Little Engine That Can". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Marcus, Michael N. (November 5, 2007). "1963: last train robbery in the USA". For The First Time (or the last time). 
  14. ^ "Princeton University - Renzo Piano selected to design University Place/Alexander Street neighborhood". 
  15. ^ Hersh, Matthew (May 23, 2007). "PU Plans Still Relocate Dinky Station". Town Topics. Princeton NJ. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  16. ^ National Association of Railroad Passengers 6/21/07 Blog entry: "More on the Dinky"
  17. ^ Council to Vote on New Memo of Understanding Oct. 4, Ocrober 2011.
  18. ^ a b Offredo, Jon (June 25, 2013). "NJ Transit board of directors approves land transfer for Dinky station move in Princeton". The Times of Trenton. Under the transfer struck yesterday, NJ Transit would sell a 0.84 acre parcel located in the former Princeton Township to the university. Parking for the new Dinky station would be built on that parcel. NJ Transit would buy a 0.06 acre parcel from the university in the former township to realign the Princeton branch train tracks. The agency also would trade its existing public transportation easement in the former borough and township for another 1.47-acre easement from the university. 
  19. ^ Bowen, Douglas John. "STB urged to halt Princeton Dinky truncation". Railway Age. Retrieved 2013-06-26. 
  20. ^ Mulvaney, Nicole (July 25, 2014). "Feds: Approval not needed for NJ Transit to remove portion of Dinky track in Princeton". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2014-07-28. 
  21. ^ Timetable
  22. ^ "US 1 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)". Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Fact Sheet 2008". Central New jersey Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit Project. New Jersey Transit. 2008. Retrieved April 1, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Central NJ Route 1 BRT" (PDF). NJ Transit Bus Service: The Next Generation. New Jersey Transit. April 26, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  25. ^ Cherkin, Bridget (April 25, 2012), "Princetion University submits revised plan for $300M arts and transit center", The Times of Trenton, retrieved 2012-04-25 
  26. ^ Draft Resolution #2012. Save the Dinky. Accessed April 14, 2012
  27. ^ a b c "Northeast Corridor Line" (PDF). New Jersey Transit Rail Operations. 2014. Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  28. ^ "PAW April 7, 2004: Perspective". 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°19′48″N 74°38′30″W / 40.32989°N 74.64179°W / 40.32989; -74.64179