NJTransit Does Not Need Federal Approval to Abandon Commuter Rail Lines, says STB

On July 25, the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued its ruling responding to a petition filed on June 24, 2013 by the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) and the New Jersey Asssociation of Railroad Passengers (NJARP) arguing that NJTransit needed STB approval before abandoning the Dinky Station and shortening the line.  Save the Dinky filed a separate comment joining the petition, as did Princeton resident and journalist Chris Hedges.   Federal approval would have required a review for adverse impacts on the environment and on  historic resources.  However, the STB declined jurisdiction in an opinion stating that under the relevant federal statutes NJ Transit enjoys an exemption from federal oversight because it is a state agency operating mass transit commuter lines.  The STB’s ruling, according to the opinion,  applies to all of NJTransit’s commuter rail lines,not just to the Princeton Branch.

No  decision has been made about an appeal.  If the STB decision stands, it means that state law provides the only protection for the public against abandonments or partial abandonments of commuter rail lines that serve developers but disserve members of the public who rely on convenient mass transit.

 In a presentation to the Transportation Research Forum in June, Henry Posner (Princeton alum and Chairman of the Railway Development Corporation) argued that unscrupulous politicians and developers may scrap well-functioning rail operations when the value of the land without rail outstrips its value for public transportation.  Posner discusses three cases:  Estonia, Guatemala, and New Jersey–specifically the case of the Dinky.  For slides of the presentation see this link.

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