The Streetcars He Desires

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t2.jpgBob Diamond is not one to hold grudges. Yes, he bought a bunch of trolleys and raised money to lay down tracks in Red Hook, in hopes of bringing streetcars back to the waterfront. Yes, the city chipped in, and then six months later, tore up the tracks without explanation (according to him; there are other reasons why it was derailed). But Diamond has moved on — or rather, underground, to another engineering feat dear to him: the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.

When Diamond went digging for it as a young engineering student, everyone believed the pre-Civil War-era tunnel, built for steam locomotives of the early Long Island Rail Road, was long gone. But in 1980, he found the two-story-high, half-mile-long tunnel intact, steam marks and all. The subterranean passage was always the cornerstone of his streetcar vision: trolleys could travel from Borough Hall and Smith St., head into the tunnel on Atlantic, and emerge at Columbia St., continuing on to Red Hook. Now, his dream makes even more sense, if only to deliver passengers to the future Brooklyn Bridge Park.

t1.jpgThe $15 he charges for tours, which he started again last month after a five-year, city imposed hiatus, will help build his streetcars of desire. It will also buy you the privilege of climbing through a manhole on Atlantic Ave., and spending an hour and a half listening to Diamond’s fascinating tales in a tunnel so well-built, you can’t hear anything above you. “It’s the only place in New York City where you won’t hear any traffic,” says Diamond. And yes, it withstood yesterday’s deluge. “It never floods,” he assures. But it will definitely be cool.

Check the Historic Brooklyn Railway Association website (brooklynrail.net) for future tours, then RSVP at 718-941-3160.

Sent by Nicole. Photos by Justin N. Lane.

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