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Tunnel vision! Railway legend, Bob Diamond, sues city over trolleys

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The city broke its promise to let a railway enthusiast build a trolley service from Downtown to Red Hook that would have passed through a shuttered subway tunnel under Atlantic Avenue, a bombshell $160-million lawsuit charged last week.

Bob Diamond — who has led tours of the long-abandoned Long Island Rail Road tunnel between Court and Hicks streets after “discovering” it in 1980 — says that the city Department of Transportation gave him the rights to bring classic streetcars back to Brooklyn, but then scuttled the plan after he spent $1.5 million to get the visionary project started.

“The city let me spend money to get the project off the ground and now they’re saying, ‘Thanks for doing the ground work, but get lost,’ ” said Diamond, who filed the suit in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Dec. 6. “That’s not going to happen.”

Diamond also claims that the Department of Transportation illegally canceled the tunnel tours in 2010 after the FDNY declared the space a fire hazard.

The suit is a last-ditch stand for Diamond, a one-time city ally who was showered with money and support before falling out of favor with transportation officials who bickered with the contrarian trailblazer before finally evicting.

The passageway was built in 1844 as part of a train line linking New York to Boston, but was closed in 1861 and abandoned until the then-19-year-old Diamond discovered the space beneath an Atlantic Avenue manhole.

The City Planning Commission gave Diamond’s Brooklyn Historic Railway Association a renewable 10-year contract to use the tunnel for tours in 1986, and re-upped the deal twice before ending the agreement last year, one week after the Fire Department canceled an underground film series in the tunnel citing safety concerns.

Diamond began laying down tracks for the streetcar line that was slated to run from Beard Street to the subway nexus at Borough Hall via Columbia Street and Atlantic Avenue in the late 1990s, and received approval from the planning commission under the city’s lengthy land-use review process to complete the project in 2000.

But Diamond alleges that transportation officials changed their minds and removed his rights to develop the project, known as a “revocable consent,” in 2003, after deciding to sell the right-of-way for the route to the highest bidder.

That never happened, as the city derailed the proposal in 2011 when the Department of Transportation found that the $176-million system would serve just 1,822 riders each day. Diamond says he could have built the 6.8-mile loop for $102 million.

Regardless, Law Department spokeswoman Connie Pankratz said the lawsuit should be derailed because the city had the right to stop the tunnel tours.

“The city withdrew its consent owing to serious public safety concerns cited by the FDNY,” Pankratz said in a statement that did not address the streetcar project.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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Reader Feedback

Bill from Boerum Hill says:
Go, Diamond, go! I hope the courts, at least, will finally show the judgment and fairness the city has denied exist (although if Atlantic Yards is any indication it's a real slim hope.)
And as for Connie Pankratz' quote about the concerns of the FDNY, earlier this year the courts found that those decisions and concerns were unsupported and arbitrary when the city tried to force a business from their building of 30 some years. Remember the tire changing place on Fulton in Ft. Greene? They won, and they're still there.

The City government thinks they're the good guys in the long run, and if in the short run folks get hurt, its all eggs and omelets. (Look at what they're doing to our schools!) Only nobody ordered omelets, Bloomberg!
Dec. 14, 2011, 8:18 am
Babs says:
Yeah, but Bill, the tire place had the support of the local councilmember and community groups. Bob has been so unpleasant to so many people for so long, it doesn't have many supporters.
Dec. 14, 2011, 11:04 am
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Good luck, Mr. Diamond. Just goes to show that city government is corrupt, fickle, and can't be trusted.
I still have great memories of the tour I took of the
tunnel.
That tunnel isn't a fire hazard anymore than the Great Pyramid of Giza is.
Another victim of Bloomberg's nanny state mentality.
Dec. 14, 2011, 11:06 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
Fantastic idea. Fantastic. Please continue to hold onto the vision!
Dec. 14, 2011, 12:48 pm
Vic from Park slope says:
Bob is a goodguy who tried to help the city.
Dec. 14, 2011, 1:47 pm
Red Hook resident from Red Hook says:
Bob went haywire, turned paranoid and aggressive. He launched at least one baseless lawsuit down here. I wish the Brooklyn Paper would stop writing these puff pieces about him.

Yes, he had a great idea. Yes, he did some great stuff but he turned into an unreliable, crazy man.

For years, media kept writing these unresearched "Trolley King" stories every time he put out a press release. The Times finally got wise. Why don't you?

Listen, if the Atlantic Avenue tunnel doesn't have a 2nd egress, of course FDNY closes it down, and it's a wonder they didn't do it earlier. No building is allowed to have only one egress. Try using some sense when you write your stories! This was once an award winning paper.
Dec. 14, 2011, 2:13 pm
vic from park slope says:
I went on a tour once, it was great, i tried to go again with my girlfriend but diamond said the tours were cancelled because DOT won't let them finish building a second egress.

It seems like a catch 22 to me, and its so obvious they want him out, and are trying to make it look legit, but it probably isn't legit at all

its going to be interesting to see what happens with this,
i'm happy for him to have his day in court, i hope the truth comes out

I wonder why they want him out so bad all of a sudden, any ideas?
Dec. 14, 2011, 2:42 pm
pay the from right people says:
unless you bribe the right people, you will not get anything done.
Dec. 14, 2011, 4:08 pm
Babs says:
Actually, pay, you have it backwards. You don't have to bribe the right people, but it is inadvisible to insult "the right people" every chance you get. Tends to work against you and it certainly did here. Bob could win Mega Millions and offer to pay the entire $176M price tag and after all he has said and done, the city would probably turn him down.
Dec. 14, 2011, 4:58 pm
Ixnay from ex Brooklynite says:
Bob Diamond is a bit of an eccentric. I think the NYCDOT should never have approved his plans due to the low ridership potential. But the FDNY is within his rights regarding egress from the old LIRR tunnel.

Bob loves transit and trolleys but alienates many people in the process. He discovered the tunnel in about 1974, not 1980.
Dec. 14, 2011, 5:02 pm
Wednesday says:
1.5 million dollars? Where did he get such an amount to gamble with on a trolley? smh Did he do business with Donald Mannes?
Dec. 14, 2011, 5:21 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I don't mean any offensive by saying this, and please don't grill me either. Bob has to understand that trolley service in NYC has been obsolete since the begining of the post war era. The truth is that NYC isn't the place for grade level rails especially since the many accidents they had that lead to their removal. It's nice that he discovered an old terminal and I thank him for that, but the idea is pretty much a pipe dream. Also, he doesn't own that land either, so he has to understand that he can't just dictate whatever he wants there. Again, the trolley in NYC has been gone and it's never comming back again.
Dec. 14, 2011, 9:40 pm
Mike Curatore from Carroll Gardens says:
There are two indisputable, non-mutually exclusive premises here:

1) The tunnel tour is a wonderful attraction and important piece of local history. Bob Diamond may have "discovered" it, but that doesn't give him ownership of it. If handled appropriately, perhaps by a museum-type outfit or institution of higher education, the Atlantic Avenue tunnel could be reopened to the public and professionally managed as it should be.
2) Bob Diamond is his own worst enemy. He has pissed off and turned on just about anyone who has helped him over the years and has a delusional view that his "discovery" is somehow his and his alone. His trolley has left the station. He needs to move on.
Dec. 15, 2011, 12:18 pm
rabbit from ditmas park says:
"his trolley has left the station." LOL
ridiculous

I don't think he's saying he owns the tunnel,
thank goodness you guys aren't writing the articles.

And from what I gather, the discovery WAS bobs alone

I BET the trolleys will return to brooklyn.

The DOT commissioner recently went to Toronto and was yapping away at how cool they were, and how they would be great, and she wasn't alone

SO THE TROLLEYS ARE COMING BACK.
Dec. 15, 2011, 12:50 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
It's nice to hear from someone with such nostalgia about trolleys and streetcars, but one has to remember why there were stopped in NYC to begin with. It wasn't because they got unpopular, it was because they were deemed dangerous for densely populated areas, which lead to the removal or covering of all grade level tracks. Most of this service was replaced by buses, which at the time they were first introduced were found to be more convenient especially in the fact that they were not limited to any tracks and could anywhere on the road making them more usefull. I don't mind tours in that tunnel, but again, the trolley is NOT comming back to Brooklyn or any other part of NYC anytime soon.
Dec. 15, 2011, 3:53 pm
rabbit from ditmas park says:
I beg to differ,
trolleys ARE coming back.

But I agree it is just a matter of time.

They have them all over, and they work great, even in city's with hills.

Most of the EU , China, Korea, Russia, Canada, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, are using trolleys, now in this day and age. They are cheaper to run than buses I read, and don't make pollution.
Here is a link for portland streetcars: http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/

But I'm not qualified really to say what youre saying is wrong, maybe you are right. I would like to do more research on it.. where did you find the information which your opinions are founded on, i.e. that trolleys are not safe?
Dec. 15, 2011, 6:51 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
Railway legend?

How can you be a railway legand without a train or a trolly.

Tunnel & research legend maybe.

Huckster, probably - (there ain't no train down there Bob - why would they leave it behind?)

But he's no railway legend.
Dec. 16, 2011, 3:13 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Rabbit, just because other cities are using them right now doesn't mean that it should be also in NYC. I would rather have cities be distinguished rather than the same. Reguardless, NYC is much more densely populated than most of those cities combined. Even if NYC could bring back the trolley, they have already taken down the tracks, wires, poles, and all the other infrastructure for it 60 years ago. One other thing, if you love those cities so much with their trolleys or streetcars, then actually move there rather than stay here. I have to agree with what Or said about Bob Diamond, because as much as I appreciate him for his discoveries, that doesn't make him a legend. On a side note, I have been very active in my fight to have the Twin Towers, but you don't hear me shouting into the heavens to being a legend like he is.
Dec. 16, 2011, 3:52 pm
rabbit from ditmas park says:
The guy is a ——ing legend-
Dec. 16, 2011, 7:27 pm
ty from pps says:
Tal -- Seriously. Do you always just say things that aren't true?! Is it a hobby?

Buses replaced streetcars because of various reasons -- but none of them had anything to do with streetcars being "dangerous in urban areas." So effing stupid. Stop making things up in your head and posting what you come up with on the internet. It's really annoying.
Dec. 16, 2011, 11 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Countries adding Light rail or trollies are among the most crowded in the World. Istanbul, The Telaviv-Jerusalem corridor. They do this because while it cost more initially, it costs less to maintain, operate and pollute less because they use electricity and not gas or diesel. Buses replaced trollies because they are more flexible and at the time gas was cheaper than electricity. Remember trollies were originally horse drawn...what a mess that was. New light rail has been added on the Jersey waterfront(like Hoboken) and the Airtram is a form of light rail. Its only NY City is behind the times, just like it is in Residential parking permits...yes someone will always complain facts to the contrary not withstanding. NY was among the last cities in the world to have parking meters and countdown clocks both at traffic lights and in the subways.
Dec. 17, 2011, 8:34 am
Soured from Red Hook says:
Diamond's problem is he is a diamond in the rough, un-cut, no glitter and no brilliance. His very demeanor runs contrary to dealing with the nuances of dealing with governmental agencies and politicians. Maybe unfair, but a harsh reality. There are plenty of visionaries who can hear the music, they just don't know how to dance without stepping on too many feet.
Dec. 18, 2011, 1:03 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
It looks like there is someone who is on Santa's naughty list, and that is ty. Even before the removal of the trolleys, Manhattan already stopped overhead wires for electricity all because of the blizzard of 1888 making them go underground instead. The point was that trolleys and streetcars became inefficient, and lost their way to subways and buses that provided better service. More importantly, buses were NOT limited to tracks, which is what made them eventually take over many former trolley routes. Overall, NYC is not like any of these other cities, and those that have light rails because they are not as populated as NYC is.
Dec. 18, 2011, 1:40 pm
rabbit from ditmas park says:
1 on Tal talking nonsense.

and Tal, why don't you stop knocking the coming of Trolleys to Brooklyn, since you live in "Pleasantville".
What do you know from Red Hook? Nothing.

I think the grown-up thing to do, Tal, is to admit you were maybe wrong, but I'm not your mommy to tell you to that.

The fact that NYC is so populated is why it NEEDS Trolleys.

Bob Diamond happens to be a real sweetheart-
just because the DOT thinks it is the Gestapo doesn't mean they have a right to trample on his organization
Dec. 18, 2011, 2:06 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Rabbit, I am not knocking Bob Diamond at all. I just think that if there was a need for the trolleys, then they would have stayed rather than been removed 50 years ago. If there was no reason to keep then, there is no reason to have them now. Maybe the reason why the DOT didn't agree to make this line was because they didn't think it's feasible. Then again, it could be that JSK really wants bike lanes for the few rather than something that helps the many, but that's just me saying that. On a side note, ganging up on me like that is really low even for you, plus I didn't slam Ditmas Park when I was talking, so leave Pleasantville alone. Another reason why grade level tracks were taken off throughout much of NYC was the fact that many saw faster service when either above or below grade level rather than at. Next, you will probably tell me that NYC needs to bring back the els just at the sense of nostaligics when they were taken down after the subway gave faster service.
Dec. 18, 2011, 5:53 pm
Rabbit from Ditmas park says:
But.......The dot did agree to let them build a line
I remember
Dec. 18, 2011, 8:38 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
The main point is whether or not the city has abandoned this tunnel, he doesn't own it no matter what, and that is despite the fact that he rediscovered it.
Dec. 18, 2011, 8:59 pm
Rabbit from Ditmas park says:
Did you have a stroke or something cus we were talking about trolleys
Dec. 18, 2011, 10:42 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Maybe you should go back in that hole you live in. I don't think that you even have a brain. Also, you still didn't answer my question. Here it is again for you. If trolleys are really needed in NYC, then why was the tracks for them burried under the concrete along with the wires and poles removed 60 years ago? I would love to see the answer for that. Again, I thank Bob Diamond for his tours and discovery of that tunnel, but his act to get a trolley service just won't happen. Even another known NYC nostalgic such as Kevin Walsh, who founded Forgotten NY, will agree with me that as great as the trollyes are, they aren't comming back, and he does have a whole page on website dedicated to trolleys if you're interested in looking at it.
Dec. 19, 2011, 2:46 pm
Rabbit from Ditmas says:
If that was the case, why would dot commissoner want to bring back trolleys, like she said in some recent articles, how she was in toronto and loved ghem, how great theyd be for ny, etc. you just like going against the majority for no reason .

Nobody cares but good for you keep it up
Dec. 19, 2011, 6:19 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
First of all, that coulnd't have been me posting at 2:46 b/c I was busy shaving my mother's legs. Quit the imposterizations, Mike and Other Mike and ineverleavemynameeventhoughiamthesameguypostingoverandoveragain. Back to the topic. Irreguarddless, trolleys are about as useful as bike lanes except the latter even carry less traffic. Nobody has yet to invent a better, more efficient, more speedy, and less costly form of transportation than the personal automobile. Those zealouts over at streetsblog are undoubtedly behind this latest salvo. All of you are nothing but a bunch of sellouts to Ratner, Hamas, and Eugene Pluitzsky. As an Israeli Jew born on the same day as my twim brother, I take great offense at all the antisematism that i see maskerading as debate. I have debunked these arguements ad naseaum but you still cling to your undefendable pespective. stick to the facts and quit attaching me personally b/c it only weakens your arguement.
-Tal Barzilai
Dec. 19, 2011, 9:53 pm
wope from red hook says:
http://brooklynrail.net/images/BHRAdocumentation/tunnel_lawsuit_document_dec_6_2011.pdf
Dec. 22, 2011, 12:56 pm
Robert from Brooklyn says:
I think the trolley movement is all about nostalgia. I love the trolleys, but it would be a huge expense to rebuild them.
Feb. 5, 2012, 1:36 am
Bueller? from Greenwood says:
Has anyone seen Bueller?
July 17, 2013, 7:47 pm

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