By MATTHEW SWEENEY
Staff Reporter of the Sun
New York City has ordered Brooklyn’s Don Quixote of trolleys
to pick up his trains and go home.
Robert Diamond, founder of the Brooklyn Historic Railway
Association, has labored with federal and city support for the
last 10 years on the Red Hook waterfront to build the city’s first
trolley line since 1960.
But the city has ordered Mr. Diamond to deliver a plan for
pulling his tracks out of city streets where he was no longer
"It looks like it’s pretty much over with,” said Tom Cocola, a
spokesman for the city Department of Transportation.
Mr. Diamond, who was to provide his plan over the weekend,
said yesterday he would instead file suit against the city in the
hopes of saving the trolley line, which he envisioned would run
1.6 miles from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood, which has
virtually no subway service, to the Borough Hall station in
“We’ll let the courts decide if it’s the end of the line,” Mr.
The DOT order to shut down ends a financial dispute between
Mr. Diamond and the agency that goes back nearly two years.
With DOT sponsorship, Mr. Diamond obtained about $300,000 in
federal and city grants in the late 1990s. The DOT also gave Mr.
Diamond permission to lay tracks from a waterfront pier, where he
stored his trolleys, onto a two-block stretch of Brooklyn on
Conover and Reed streets.
“We always were under the impression that some of the costs
would be absorbed by him,” Mr. Cocola said.
Mr. Diamond dug up those two blocks and laid rail, but work
proceeded slowly over the last decade,with just a handful of
“We were making progress,” Mr. Diamond said. “We were inching
Mr. Diamond failed to come up with funding and argued instead
that the tens of thousands of hours of labor on the project should
count toward his end.
Not satisfied, the DOT withdrew its sponsorship for Mr.
Diamond’s grant requests last year.
Mr. Diamond said that without the city’s support, he was
The relationship deteriorated this year. Over a three-day
period at the end of May, the DOT hauled away several tons of
railroad ties, steel rails and other equipment as Mr. Diamond
looked on.The agency said it owned the equipment because Mr.
Diamond bought it with taxpayer money.
Mr. Diamond, in turn, filed a police report accusing the city
of grand larceny, claiming that $616,000 of the seized equipment
was bought with his own money or privately raised funds.
“We’re disappointed with the way things are turning,” Mr. Cocola said.
It’s not just the city that wants Mr.Diamond to pack up his
operation.A local developer, Greg O’Connell, has taken legal steps
seeking to remove Mr. Diamond from a nearby lot, where Mr.
O’Connell is trying to bring in a Fairway supermarket.
Mr.O’Connell, who supported Mr.Diamond early on by letting him
store cars and equipment on his property, said he will continue to
give Mr. Diamond a place for storage on a nearby pier, but needs
the land back.
If not a trolley line, maybe Mr. Diamond could open a trolley
museum, he said.
“I’d like to keep it alive in some way or another,” he said.
Adding to Mr. Diamond’s misery, two former associates have
created their own group, the Brooklyn City Streetcar Company.They
have been stumping for their plan to build a trolley line in the
borough connecting a planned waterfront park with Downtown
If his legal action does not save the trolley line, Mr.
Diamond said he would sell the collection of cars. He stores 12 of
the trolley cars at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where his lease
expired last year.
FIEDLER UNUSED trolley tracks at the pier at Van Brunt
Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
BROOKLYN, 1940 A trolley car.
Copyright © 2003,
New York Sun