A train buff’s longtime dream of restoring streetcars to Red Hook went even further off the rails this past weekend when three of his beloved carriages went missing.
The owner of the lot behind Fairway Market that was home to the three rusting streetcars for the past decade had them put on flatbed trailers and hauled away to a train museum in Connecticut on Sunday. The removal put a wrench in the plans of the rail buff behind the scheme to bring back the neighborhood’s on-street transit network. Worse still, the dreamer says he is the rightful owner of the cars and the donation amounted to grand theft locomotive.
“I was in a state of complete shock,” said Bob Diamond, president of the Historic Railways Association. “We were trying to fix them up since after Hurricane Sandy.”
Diamond has stored the relics for more than a decade in the lot owned by the O’ Connell Organization, a developer, he said. But the company apparently felt enough of a sense of ownership over the old buggies to feel comfortable handing them over to the Branford Electric Railway Association, which runs the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Conn.
“Rather than let these historic trolleys continue to sit stagnant, building up rust and rot in Red Hool, the O’ Connell Organization has passed them to BERA, which has the ability to rebuild them or at the very least can facilitate a transfer to someone that will,” said company head Greg O’Connell in a statement.
Diamond has been dedicated to bringing trolley-dodging back to Red Hook for more than two decades. His dream is to re-establish a rail connection between Red Hook and Borough Hall.
In 1999, Diamond laid a few hundred feet of track and briefly enjoyed city backing for expanding the project, but pols cut off funding by the early 2000s.
In 2011, the Department of Transportation delivered another blow when it said that bringing back the old streetcars would be too expensive.
The rail warrior insists that the size of the project is justified by the neighborhood’s need to connect to the rest of the borough.
“Red Hook is such a cut-off area,” said Diamond. “Residents should have decent transportation.”
In addition to the three streetcars that were taken away Diamond says his group owns a fourth, fully restored car that is in storage at a Beard Street pier warehouse, which is also controlled by the O’Connell group. Diamond wants the remaining carriage relocated before the company has it disappeared, too.
“It should be moved at O’Connell’s cost to another location of our choice,” he said.
The train advocate is undeterred by the latest development and is pushing ahead with a feasibility study for a streetcar system with the Gowanus Canal Development Corporation. He expects the study to be completed by April .
“Hopefully with this whole situation we can turn lemons to lemonade,” said Diamond.