Princeton Community Rail Authority (PCRA) Talking Points
In 1984, Princeton University purchased the Princeton station from NJ Transit, including the railroad right-of-way. An easement was retained by NJ Transit for the rail infrastructure, which includes the platform, track structure and electrification.
In 2011, there is a risk to Princeton Borough that, as the result of political pressure, NJ Transit will agree to abandon a substantial portion of its easement in order to facilitate a development project for Princeton University.
The intent in forming PCRA is specifically and transparently to preserve the existing platform and infrastructure for the benefit of the community, recognizing that relocation of the station farther from Nassau Street will have negative impacts on train ridership and impose undue burdens on the traveling public.
PCRA would be formed as a public-private partnership between Princeton Borough and RDC, and would purchase the portion of the real estate parcel currently owned by Princeton University necessary for continued operation “as is, where is”, probably limited to the station platform and right-of-way and supplemented by a pedestrian easement in order to guarantee access. Purchase would be through Princeton Borough’s power of eminent domain condemnation under New Jersey law, and the purchase price would be Fair Market Value, determined based on the market value of the track materials as scrap, alternative values for the right-of-way, etc. (as this is a long, very thin parcel the expected price should be well under $1 million) Princeton Borough would contribute its power of condemnation, and RDC would contribute financing in such a way that the financial impact on Princeton Borough would be neutral.
With regard to financing, RDC would provide PCRA with the funds to purchase the parcel and fund administration costs, including insurance should it not be provided by the Operator (see below) and interest and principal on the loan would accumulate. The loan would ultimately be paid off by either:
a. Princeton Borough’s decision to exit from PCRA for any reason, leaving RDC as the owner of PCRA and therefore of the parcel, or
b. Princeton Borough’s decision to buy RDC’s interest in PCRA out by paying off the loan.
Responsibilities of PCRA
- Stabilize the location of the Princeton Station and insulate it from the political risk of NJ Transit being coerced into agreeing to cutting back the line, directly or indirectly by Princeton University.
- To serve as franchise authority for continued operation of the line by either:
a. NJ Transit, continuing “business as usual” service to Princeton, or
b. Should NJ Transit elect to discontinue service to Princeton, the solicitation and selection of proposals by third parties for operation of the line. (It should be noted that several private sector groups have expressed interest in this, one being RDC. To the extent that this becomes a perceived or real conflict of interest on RDC’s part, RDC agrees to withdraw its interest in serving as the operator.)
- In the event of NJ Transit’s abandonment of the Princeton Branch in its entirety to Princeton Junction, PCRA, using the condemnation authority of the borough of Princeton on its behalf, would acquire the entire 2.8 mile line. In this case, RDC would provide additional financing under the same terms and conditions as above.
Railroad Development Corporation (www.rrdc.com) is an international railway investment and management company that owns railroad rights of way in the USA (Iowa Interstate Railroad, soon to be hosting Amtrak service); has diverse experience in the structuring of railway-related joint ventures, including public-private partnerships; and is establishing an intercity passenger business in Germany in direct competition with Deutsche Bahn, the national railway company.
For years the Princeton Branch, affectionately known as the Dinky, has been treated with ambivalence by the State of New Jersey, through its public operating agency NJ Transit, and by Princeton University, which purchased the station complex in 1984 and then moved the Princeton stop approximately 180 feet farther away from Nassau Street. As part of its contract with NJ Transit, and in apparent remuneration for increasing passenger walking distance, Princeton University promised upgrades and amenities that it has failed to properly deliver. These included the promise to maintain the station building as a viable indoor waiting area and to create a restaurant in the freight building. The passenger building is open for just a few hours on weekday mornings, its exterior is in need of repair and the University has made no noticeable effort in twenty-five (25) years to establish a viable restaurant. Over the years New Jersey Transit has reduced service and has not implemented service changes that could provide better connectivity with service on the Northeast Corridor at Princeton Junction, especially toward Trenton, Philadelphia & Washington. Despite the considerable communications and information technology that has been developed during this period, NJ Transit has used none to improve Dinky services.
Neglect of the Dinky line is not justified by lack of ridership. To the contrary, ridership of the Dinky is strong. In fact, the Princeton Station ranks 43rd in generating ridership among the 150 NJT rail stations. Nevertheless, leaders of NJ Transit continually complain about subsidies that it is said to allocate to the Princeton Branch. Recently, both Governor Christy and the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation have threatened to withdraw their support for the Princeton Branch in conjunction with Princeton University’s development project, implying that such opposition would result in cessation of rail passenger service on the Princeton Branch.
RDC is prepared to join in the PCRA in response to the possibility of NJT’s withdrawal from provision of rail transportation service on the Princeton Branch. RDC sees this as a commercial opportunity through a public-private partnership to not only preserve rail service but to improve it. Options for improvement of service on the Princeton Branch include:
- Returning the Princeton Branch terminus to its original pre 1985 location.
- Negotiations with NJ Transit to augment its operations to meet more trains at the Junction and run a demand responsive scheduled service.
- Installation of communications hardware that would provide information on actual train departures westbound out of New Brunswick and Eastbound out of Trenton.
- Negotiation with NJ Transit on optimized revenue sharing on joint tickets and diversion of commuter parking funds to its account rather than a Princeton University account.
- Investigation of an honor code fare system.
- Negotiation of servicing agreements with third parties such as NJ Transit for improved scheduling of track and rolling stock maintenance and emergency bus service.
- An active marketing and promotional campaign to increase ridership and use of the Princeton commuter parking facility
- Investigation of the operational and financial aspects of shuttle bus service to Nassau Street and beyond.
- Investigation of other revenue generating opportunities including advertising and naming rights.
- Beyond PCRA’s base mandate, the exploration of options for funding capital improvements including moving the terminus back to is pre-1985 location at the Passenger building, renovation of the Passenger building, conversion of the Freight building to a restaurant and upgrade of the rolling stock.