New York Sun

Publication:The New York Sun;  Date:Jul 14, 2003;   Section:New York;   Page:4    

City Derails Dream of Red Hook Trolley


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 welcome.

"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 Downtown Brooklyn.

“We’ll let the courts decide if it’s the end of the line,” Mr. Diamond said.

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 demonstration runs.

“We were making progress,” Mr. Diamond said. “We were inching along.”

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 stuck.

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 Brooklyn.

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.

KONRAD FIEDLER UNUSED trolley tracks at the pier at Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

AP BROOKLYN, 1940 A trolley car.


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