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Red Hook Trolley Cars Could Be Dumped, New Owners Say

By Nikhita Venugopal | February 13, 2014 9:24am | Updated on February 13, 2014 12:53pm
 The Red Hook trolley cars were located on the waterfront behind Fairway until they were donated to the Branford Electric Railway Association, Feb. 10.
Red Hook Trolley Cars
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RED HOOK — The three trolley cars that were trucked out of Red Hook over the weekend might be dismantled and thrown away unless a new owner is found for them.

The abandoned streetcars, which had been sitting on the property behind Red Hook’s Fairway Market for years, were donated to the Shore Line Trolley Museum, based in East Haven, Conn., according to its website.

The museum will spend the next few months searching for a new home for the street cars — but after that, they will be dumped, the museum said in a statement.

“If by the end of spring we are unsuccessful, the cars will have any salvageable components removed for use in the streetcar preservation community and the remainder disposed of,” the statement said.

“The cars are not and will not be located at our museum, but are at a safe site, away from vandals and thieves.

“At this point it will be up to the museum community or interested others to step up and save these cars or to let them go.”

The three trolleys were packed and moved out of Red Hook about 12:30 a.m. Monday after the O’Connell Organization, a real estate development business that owns the property behind Fairway Market, gave them to the Shore Line Trolley Museum.

The museum is operated by the Branford Electric Railway Association (BERA), an organization founded in 1945 and dedicated to the preservation of the trolley car.

In its statement, the O’Connell Organization, which paid for the transportation of the trolleys to the museum, said the cars were donated to BERA so that they could eventually "serve a purpose somewhere."

But the organization's hopes for the trolley cars seem to contradict BERA’s possible plans for them.

When asked about the trolleys' fate, the O’Connell Organization declined to comment and directed questions to Bill Wall, the museum’s president emeritus.

The expense of removing the trolleys from Brooklyn and the considerable damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which included rust, rotting, missing doors, frozen gear cases, destroyed windows and glass and motors immersed in salt water, created challenges in finding a new owner, Wall said.

For the last year, potential owners have been sought for the cars but the museum has received no takers, he said.

But now that the cars are out of Red Hook, Wall hopes at least one trolley will be saved - the Boston 3321 - because of its historical value as the last streetcar built by the Pullman Company.

Wall has received "nibbles" from museums, most of which offered to take certain valuable parts of the trolley. The only cost will come from dismantling the cars, which the interested parties will split between themselves, he said.

“We’re trying to avoid the parts thing because that means once they’re gone, they’re gone,” he said.

Bob Diamond, chairman of the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, said he was unaware that the cars were going to be donated or that they could be dismantled.

“That’s what I was afraid was going to happen,” he said, calling the incident “grand theft streetcar.”

Diamond, who has spent decades working on a rejected proposal to build a streetcar system in Red Hook, claims his association has owned the three trolleys since 1991 as well as a fourth that’s stored in a warehouse at Beard and Van Brunt streets.

Ray Hall, who has been the warehouse’s manager for 20 years, confirmed that a restored trolley had been stored in the warehouse for decades.

Diamond continues to study the feasibility of designing Red Hook’s own trolley system even though the Department of Transportation axed those plans in 2011 after determining that the project’s more than $170 million expense would heavily outweigh its return.

Diamond claims the abandoned cars would have been used as a prototype for an updated trolley design.

A contentious relationship between Diamond and the O’Connell Organization has continued for years after Gregory O’Connell, the company's principal who initially supported Diamond’s Red Hook railway dreams, evicted the association from a warehouse it had been using rent-free for almost 10 years, according to a 2004 New York Times report.

“Our position has been dictated in our press release. We do not wish to address Mr. Diamond’s continuous un-factual, slanderous commentary,” O’Connell said in an email to DNAinfo New York.

Diamond claims the three unused cars are valued at $30,000 in copper parts and threatened to sue the O’Connell Organization unless the fourth car was returned to him.

“If he thinks he’s going to go and get rid of it, he’s got something coming to him,” Diamond said.