Diamond in the clear! Transit legend’s streetcar dreams finally back on track

Train in vain: Bob Diamond stands with one of his precious streetcars back in 1999, when he had a few hundred feet of track in Red Hook to move along.
File photo

His cable car has just come in!

Mayor DeBlasio wants to bring trolley dodging back to Brooklyn for the first time since the 1950s, and no one is more excited about it than legendary Flatbush engineer and transit geek Bob Diamond, who has been trying to get the city to do just that for more than 20 years.

“I think it’s really important for the future growth and prosperity of New York City that the mayor and other elects work to bring back a streetcar network,” said Diamond, who has been laboring to build a streetcar system linking Red Hook with Downtown since 1989.

Diamond’s dream was originally city-sanctioned, and he lay some tracks in Red Hook and purchased several vintage streetcars to ride them, only for the city to cut off funding in 1999.

The Bloomberg administration became interested again in 2009, but put the kibosh on his fantasy altogether in 2011, following a Department of Transportation study — widely circulated online again in recent days — that found the streetcar would serve relatively few people for the price tag and would be difficult to squeeze into Red Hook’s streets.

Diamond believes the study was set up to fail, however, because the city wanted to fund more buses at the time.

“To be perfectly frank, it’s been a laughing stock in the transit community since it came out,” claimed Diamond, who also poured his efforts into running tours through an abandoned train tunnel he found under Atlantic Avenue, until transportation officials killed that dream in 2010 as well.

The armchair transit expert still contends that streetcars exceed busses in every way that matters — creating less pollution, consuming less energy, accommodating more passengers, and promoting development along their routes.

“Streetcars are superior to busses on every level and in every category of metric,” he said.

Now the city has a leader who is enthusiastically on board the streetcar revival, Diamond — who says he has written seven or eight books on the subject — says his one remaining hope is that he is included.

“I’m bored, so if I can help them in any way, I’m all ready to do that,” he said. “I need something to do since the tunnel tours got shut down, and there’s only so many books you can write.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Diamond in the rough: Bob Diamond has longed to bring a streetcar to Columbia Street for decades.
Photo by Tom Callan

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