Trolleys may roam BK again

The Brooklyn Paper
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Changes to a federal transportation plan could one day return that once familiar ‘clang-clang-clang’ to local streets.

The New York City Transportation Committee recently announced the addition of a project to investigate the potential for light rail, trolley or similar “rail-based community development” in Red Hook and Downtown Brooklyn.

The committee is a component of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, which is housed within the state DOT. In September, the council held a series of federally mandated workshops seeking to shape a plan intended to guide the next 25 years of transportation improvements.

The study will cost $295,000 and is entirely federally funded, according to the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

Bob Diamond, the president and founder of the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association (BHRA) a group dedicated to restoring trolley service to the borough, naturally cheered the proposed amendment to the massive, multi-billion transportation plan.

“I’m thrilled that the powers that be have recognized the importance of light rail/streetcar service to downtown Brooklyn and Red Hook,” Diamond said.

Back in the late 1990s, Diamond, an engineer by training, and his group installed a half mile of trolley track from the Beard Street Pier to Reed Street in Red Hook.

“From an engineering point of view, the Red Hook demonstration trolley was a great success. BHRA would be glad to make available the information we culled regarding track and overhead wire construction, decentralized power distribution, safety signaling devices and the restoration of historic trolleys that would make a great addition to a new light rail/streetcar line,” Diamond said.

Also that decade, the BHRA worked with the graduate transportation engineering school at Polytechnic University to produce a multi-volume study on the return of trolleys to downtown Brooklyn. The studies looked at routes, traffic engineering with computer simulation modeling, track and roadway geometry, and demand analysis.

“I would be glad to provide these documents for incorporation into the new study,” he offered.

A total of four, former BHRA trolleys now sit derelict in Red Hook. The group’s plan, which was to connect Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn, was ultimately sidetracked for financial reasons.

Building a trolley system involves excavating the street to a depth of two feet, installing track, overhead wire, and repaving the roadway.

Diamond said constructing the trolley line could cost anywhere between $3 to $7 million a mile, per rail, depending on construction methodology. The benefits, he said, would be incalculable, “The trolley will attract riders because they are a novelty, like the trolleys of San Francisco. They will boost community development and draw enhanced tourism to the area, and also help revitalize the neighborho­od,” he predicted.

The comment period for the inclusion of the trolley study ends on Jan. 13. Comments can be addressed by email to, or sent conventionally to Uchenna Madu, New York City Transportation Coordinating Committee, 47-40 21st Street, Long Island City, New York, NY 11101.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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