Transit buff’s plan was felled by city bureaucracy
By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The three deteriorating, rusting “PCC”-model streetcars that were trucked away from the Red Hook waterfront on Sunday are now the property of the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Conn., the premiere trolley museum in the United States.
Although this may seem like good news, the museum has no plans to rehabilitate them. Indeed, if it doesn’t get a buyer for them by the end of the spring, it plans to scrap them and use them for parts.
The trolleys, two of which ran on the MBTA’s Green Line in Boston and the other of which ran both in Cleveland and in Buffalo, are among the last physical reminders of Brooklyn transit buff Bob Diamond’s dream of creating a trolley line linking Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn.
In the late 1990s, Diamond received a federal grant through the city Department of Transportation (DOT). He and his volunteers began laying tracks and overhead wire on several Red Hook streets. Red Hook property owner Greg O’Connell gave Diamond space to store his trolleys on his waterfront property, next to what later became Fairway.
O’Connell also donated free space within his Beard Street Warehouse to Diamond’s organization, the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, for a workshop and trolley barn. According to Diamond, a fourth trolley is still stored inside the former workshop.
In the early 2000s, however, Diamond’s plans went sour when the DOT refused to give him permission to install any more tracks in city streets. Charges and counter-charges followed. In 2003, O’Connell evicted Diamond from his property, giving him until Dec. 31 of that year to remove the cars.
“I love Bob Diamond, but I have no choice but to evict him,” the New York Post quoted O’Connell as saying. “There are other nonprofits that could use the space.”
Although the trolleys began to deteriorate slightly before SuperStorm Sandy, said Bill Wall, president emeritus of the Shore Line Trolley Museum, the storm severely accelerated the process. In addition, vandals began to deface them with graffiti and “Post-It” notes.
“It was only a matter of time before they became a danger to passers-by,” said Wall. With strong winds, windows and other parts could have flown off the trolleys.
On Sunday, without Diamond’s prior knowledge, trucks began loading the three outdoor trolleys and taking them to Connecticut. A press release from the O’Connell Organization said that the company had been working with the Connecticut trolley museum for more than a year to find a home for the trolley cars.
The PCC, made between the mid-1930s and the early 1950s, was once the top-of-the-line streetcar in the U.S. But while PCCs are old, they are hardly endangered. Even today, says Wall, over 50 of them run on streetcar lines in Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. More are stored in museums across the country.
Since the Shore Line Trolley Museum already has several PCC cars, the three from Red Hook would be “redundant,” says Wall. “We have the original, the granddaddy of them all [the first PCC car, which ran in Brooklyn].”
In addition, Wall said, the museum’s own streetcars were damaged during Hurricane Sandy and have to be repaired. “We have 90 streetcars that were damaged by floods – we don’t need three more.”
Diamond claims that the streetcars weren’t O’Connell’s to donate. When the Eagle asked him about this, he emailed copies of documents showing that he bought them in 1991.
However, Wall says that he wouldn’t have accepted the donation if the O’Connell Organization hadn’t showed him convincing documents showing that it now had title to the streetcars.
Diamond, who hopes to revive his Red Hook streetcar proposal under the new de Blasio administration, isn’t too broken up about the whole thing.
“The bottom line,” he said in an email, “is to move forward with the new streetcar feasibility study. Once the new project gets rolling, there are plenty more streetcars around. In fact, we’re designing a new type of highly efficient streetcar, which we hope to manufacture in Brooklyn.”