Resurrecting Red Hook’s Trolley Tracks

There’s been some talk in recent years about the possibility of creating trolley lines to service areas of Brooklyn and Queens that are hard to access by public transportation, but now the idea is officially on the table. According to NY1, at a campaign event earlier this month, Mayor Bloomberg said that he is interested in trolley service, and his team is currently investigating the feasibility of using the city’s old trolley tracks, starting in Red Hook. Bob Diamond, president of the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, is enthusiastic about the idea, saying: “A light rail or a streetcar line usually costs about one-twentieth of what a subway line would cost. And they’re outside, and they use existing streets, so there’s no right-of-way acquisition and the track can be built very quickly.” Now the Department of Transportation will study the feasibility of a light rail or trolley system in Red Hook, research that is financed with about $300,000 in federal funding and should begin this year.
Trolleys Could Make a Comeback in Red Hook [NY1]
Trolleys Coming to Red Hook? [Cobble Hill Blog]
Could Streetcars Return to Brooklyn? [Brownstoner]
Streetcars for Brooklyn: a New Life? [Transport Politic]

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  • perhaps those crazy over-the-top prices paid for homes in a neighborhood without mass transit weren’t so crazy after all.

  • Imagine Atlantic Avenue set up with trolleys like Market Street in San Francisco. Talk about real estate prices that would go up!!!!

  • A trolley to Red Hook would be super. They should run it from the Hook, up Union Street to Grand Army Plaza at the end of Vanderbilt. It would tie together Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Fourth Ave, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens and create a very cool commercial corridor.

  • GREAT IDEA. I’ve talked about this is the past and was given some grief about it but I still think its a slam dunk to put street cars back in play. Free transfers to the subway would make sense.

  • Totally in support of this idea, the benefits are powerful and numerous! Bring on the Trolley! Right down Van Brunt to Fairway would be beyond excellent.

  • I love this idea. Besides being much needed, it makes smart use of existing infrastructure and could really bring some old school charm to the area.

  • If there was any better use of “Stimulus Funds” I have yet to hear of it. This would be one of the only truly “Stimulating” projects anyone has come up with yet.

  • I think I saw this in San Francisco a few years back (on way to Fisherman’s Pier). Should work.

    ***Bid half off peak comps***

  • i went down there a few weeks ago ( and it was really fun to see the old trolleys. I would LOVE to see them working again, just i wisht ehy used cute old fashioned ones!

  • Didn’t they do this a few years ago? If I remember correctly, the MTA and Bob Diamond had a falling out and they ripped up all of the tracks that had been laid.

    This is still a brilliant idea, and Atlantic would be awesome with streetcar tracks running up it. Jay/Smith St is even wide enough to accommodate it heading into downtown.

  • Wish they would do light rail in other parts of the city- its a great idea and for the price of one short underground subway line in Manhattan we could have seriously upgraded public transportation in the outer boroughs.

  • Parden the ignorance, but couldn’t all the benefits of the trolley be achieved by the B61 bus that currently goes down Van Brunt and gives you connection to other buses that go down Union (B71) or Atlantic (B63). Could the money not be better spent on improving these bus lines?

  • a little too Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and his land of make believe for my taste.


  • Brooklyn has ample right of way space under the BQE and Gowanus expressways. It would be very easy to run trolleys the entire way, and these could easily connect with nearby subways.

  • Nobody likes riding the bus, smatlantic.

  • I think this is a great idea to connect RH with other parts of BK. If this plan goes through, it might be a good time to snatch up some cheap properties there now

  • We’ve covered this topic before… but here’s a few of the many positive attributes of a streetcar (in contrast to a bus)

    * The capacity per operator is much higher
    * Faster loading/unloading is possible
    * Tracks create a sense of permanence that is very important for economic development (long-term decisions about store locations etc.)
    * The tracks mark where the vehicle goes… much easier to navigate for people who are going somewhere unfamiliar… i.e., no unexpected routes.
    * While streetcars have to deal with traffic as well, cars respect the right-of-way of a train on tracks much more than a bus.

    There are many many more. AND before the bus-lovers get all up in arms… I’m not saying buses aren’t an important component of a successful transportation system. They most definitely are!

  • Maybe I’m foggy on the details, but wasn’t this actually a done deal in about 2000? The trollies were being rehabbed, the map was laid out, ready to start surfacing or creating the rails, and then 9/11 happened and the funding got taken away. The rail was going to go from Jay St./Boro Hall, down to the waterfront (where everyone figured there’d be a park “someday”), and down the waterfront through Red Hook, just as it did for the dockworkers back in the day.

  • They’ve been talking about this for nearly my entire adult life.

    If the Second Avenue subway can’t even get built, this will never happen. It’s a great idea, and would do wonders to turn Red Hook into an accessible and thriving residential community (high rises!) but it’s just a pipe dream.

  • Here is why Bloomberg (and Diamond) are ridiculous

    “1/20th” of a subway line is HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS and thats before the environmental impact statement, labor issues, frivolous lawsuits and inevitable delays (what you think everyone is going to support this????? – think again).

    So even if you could convince people that the supposed benefits of street cars over buses (85% which are psychological/nostalgic) it still wont happen cause we do not have the $ – even with “stimulus” $ – think this project is “shovel ready”

    Bloomberg should stick with pragmatic solutions – and frankly with its wide streets – relatively low traffic and lack of mass transit Red Hook is a terrific place to try having truly dedicated bus lanes – with synchronized lights etc… and you know what -if its such a success- then just replace the lane with some track and you can have your feel good streetcars….but really it is just a pipedream.

  • QUOTE:
    “* The capacity per operator is much higher
    * Faster loading/unloading is possible
    * Tracks create a sense of permanence that is very important for economic development (long-term decisions about store locations etc.)
    * The tracks mark where the vehicle goes… much easier to navigate for people who are going somewhere unfamiliar… i.e., no unexpected routes.
    * While streetcars have to deal with traffic as well, cars respect the right-of-way of a train on tracks much more than a bus.”

    1) How so? more capacity than an articulated bus? Citation please.

    2) How? Is there a different fare collection mechanism? And if so, why couldn’t it be used on buses?

    3 through 5) Here’s the real problem with trolleys. Because they have fixed tracks, they’re not maneuverable. When there’s a double-parked truck, or an accident, or a disabled trolley, you’re stuck and cannot go around it. When there’s road construction or a street fair, you can’t reroute onto a parallel street. All you can do is suspend service.

    Trolleys may be cheaper than subways, but they’re far more expensive than buses, since they need tracks and catenary wires. And they don’t do anything better than buses do, unless they have a dedicated right-of-way, which seems extremely unlikely, and not a very wise use of limited space.

  • fsrq — “85% which are psychological/nostalgic” That’s just not true! That’s just a bunch of blowhard propaganda talk. If it was just psychological/nostalgic then cities around the world wouldn’t have streetcars… and NEWLY BUILT streetcar systems!

  • Diamond installed tracks on Conover and Reed Streets a few years ago, he ran out of funds, and the city then promptly ripped them up and paved them over. Now they want to restart the whole thing again?

  • Saparafucile… I remember you, the last time this topic came up you were spewing the same garbage.

    Articulated Bus — How many of those do you see in this city?! I wonder if there’s a reason we don’t have any?!

    In a larger vehicle, you CAN have a different fare collection method. You can have two entrances taking fares. Streetcars can be an opportunity to change the faretaking method/culture altogether! like the ‘honor system’ they are piloting on some of the longer commuter bus lines from Queens (?)

    And why is maneuverability so important? Umm… you don’t have a street fair on the street with the streetcar! Trucks aren’t going to double-park on train tracks… and if they do (because they are completely retarded) they are towed and fined heavily and it doesn’t happen again.

    Do you really think the need for “maneuverability” is that big of a deal?! Seriously? Are the hundreds of streetcar lines around the work trapped in this absurd quagmire that you’ve illustrated?! Defined, easy to navigate routes, that clearly demarcate economic areas and provide regular service on vehicles that are far more comfortable and appealing than a bus…. How is this negative?

    Yeah — streetcar infrastructure costs more. But the vehicles last a lot longer, they have ZERO local emissions, electric/hybrid buses can many times SHARE the overhead wires if the bus/streetcar route intersects/overlaps, and so on…

  • I’m all for improved mass transit but running trolleys in the streets is not the way to do this. In Boston, where they still have trolleys, after years of grief, they finally got rid of the lines that run in the streets. Light rail (trolleys) that run in a designated right of way have proven much more practical. As mentioned above, running light rail under existing highways or using streets that are under-utilized would make a lot of sense for Brooklyn.

  • 1) I see articulated buses all over Manhattan, on pretty much every crosstown route.

    2)You still haven’t explained why this different fare collection system and change in culture (I am sincere in wishing that an honor system would succeed) couldn’t happen on buses just as well as on trolleys.

    3) Car crashes do happen. Cars and trucks do double park, even though they’re risking towing. Trolley lines won’t come equipped with pixie dust that magically makes collisions and anti-social driving disappear.

    4) I grew up in a city with trolleys, and was a daily trolley commuter all through middle school and high school. I speak from first-hand experience about the disadvantages of a fixed-track vehicle on a shared roadway. The point is that it doesn’t take a quagmire to bring a trolley line to a halt. A single disabled vehicle anywhere on the line is all it takes.

    5) Trolley with a dedicated right-of-way could work. Trackless trolleys (bus chassis with electric motor powered by overhead wires) could work. Fixed tracks sharing right-of-way with other vehicles doesn’t work.

  • tybur6 – 1st of all psychological/nostalgic doesnt equal bad – as anyone looking at the tourists waiting for a streetcar in Sf can attest. But just because other cities have streetcar systems (most of which are legacy systems) doesnt mean that it is therefore “better”.

    Every city is different (ex – width of streets, $ available, demographics)
    but even if you look at the benefits you cite – many are possible with a bus (if your so inclined) – they have nothing to do with if it runs on metal or rubber wheels – i.e. entry exit, passanger load,fare collection, enforceable right of way. The rest really are psychological (“sense of permanence, set routes for easier understanding, )

    Essentially all a bus is, is a street car with an engine and wheels that steer….

    and as for your emissions argument – streetcars run on electricity, electricity is generally locally generate – i.e. it isnt zero emmissions, and certainly neither is the environmental cost of BUILDING an entirely new system, with entirely new vehicles for it. If you really were focused on the environment – electrc buses with a permanent right of way would be far better…

  • fsrq… streetcar systems are not legacy systems necessarily and many of the most promising examples are not (Portland, Paris and Amsterdam recent expansion, etc. etc.) That being said, I think NYC and specifically Brooklyn should look at the streetcar networks that were ripped out/covered up from yesteryear (and replaced by buses) Those same routes are probably, in many cases, very viable.

    Yeah — that’s why i said local emissions. A power plant creates energy FAR more efficiently than a combustion engine and the emission source is, generally, not in your face. I agree, there SHOULD be electric buses. BUT, I disagree, there are most definitely instances where are Streetcar (on street) or even a Tram (protected tracks) would serve the needs of the city far better.

    I dismiss the “nostalgia” claim — yes, it does make it a bit attractive, but i know it’s used as a pejorative by opponents — and that’s how I read your use of “psychological” as well. Simple things like comfort are psychological too, but have a huge impact on ridership. A streetcar is usually more comfortable than a bus because of the mechanical requirements of each vehicle — folks are willing to ride further distances and ride more often. That’s NOT a small thing.

  • I’m trying to imagine that there are people, even here in NYC, that are so arrogant, entitled, or just plain stupid to leave a vehicle unattended on an active railway.

    I suppose if you have a view half a mile back and see no train, you could figure on running in to drop off dry cleaning, or some other such chore.

    But really the human race is done a disservice to imagine there are those among us that would park a truck to load/unload on a transitway.

    I have experienced in-street light rail in Portland, OR and Freiburg, Germany. Much nicer than buses. By a long shot.
    I’d like to see them on Manhattan’s major crosstown streets.

  • Hi folks;

    Late to the party, as I’m travelling on business in San Jose, California. I have to make it quick:

    FSRG and Sparafucile are dead on. They’ ve made most of the correct arguments, but let me add one more. In making this argument, please note that I am a mechancial engineer, and studied this topic in my university days.

    In this time when there is great concern about global warming and our overall energy policy, I think it is downright irresponsible to propose trolleys over buses. The process of distributing electricity is HIGHLY inefficient. Only about one-third of the power that is generated in the central plant is used by the end-applicance, be it a trolley or a washing machine. The rest is lost to heat generated by the resistance of the power-transmission cable.

    By contrast, an internal combustion engine is highly efficient. To those who complain about the emissions on the street, I would recommend that they go to a city that has modern buses. I recently travelled to Hamburg, Germany, where most of the trolleys have been replaced by gas-fired buses. They are quiet, and clean.

    I agree that the hankering for trolleys is driven mostly by nostalgia, not by rational principles of transportation, engineering or economics.

  • I found San Fran’s trolley system to be nostalgic and a bit outdated. It wasn’t much faster than walking and seemed to be more of a tourist gimmick than anything. Portland OR, on the other hand, had a convenient, modern, efficient light rail system that would be awesome in Brooklyn. I’d love to be able to take a light rail from Grand Army Plaza to Red Hook.

  • no local pollution, but, just as importantly, scrubbers can be used at source to dramatically reduce total pollution also. And, admittedly a minor point, but for those who have ever had the unfortunate auditory experience of living next to a bus stop as the bus accelerates away…

    To take up benson’s points, heat loss might be an issue but isn’t a pollution concern, and you do not mention the parallel bus issues of having gasoline/diesel delivered locally so that it can be used locally.

  • I would love to see trolleys come back! The light rail system which was built in Jersey City is pretty nice, too. This works pretty well in Boston, where the “Green Line” comprises 4 or 5 different trolley and light rail routes.

  • I would imagine articulated buses are limited as to where they can run because of street width. I see a lot of them in the Bronx- but on wide streets. I think Brooklyn probably has a lot more narrow streets.

    A dedicated light rail line would be a great improvement over buses. How many times have you ever waited for a bus? And how often did you get stuck in traffic, or behind an ambulance or blocked by a delivery truck? Ever get packed into a bus or miss 2-3 buses because they were too crowded?

  • Dittoburg;

    You missed my point. I wasn’t talking about pollution, I was talking about energy efficiency, and I once again state that there is NO COMPARISON between the energy efficiency of an internal-combustion bus versus that of electrical trolley.

    My point was that two-thirds of generated electrical energy is lost in transmission and until a breakthrough in super-conductivity occurs, there is nothing one can do about it. On the other hand, the very reason that oil-based products are used wherever possible is that it can be transported efficiently. Very little energy is expended in transporting oil-based products. You pump it, just like we do with our water.

    Regarding emissions, I once again commend that people travel to cities that have made investments in modern buses.

    In terms of energy consumption and capital expenses, there is simply no comparsion between a trolley and a bus in a dedicated lane. It is wishful thinking to believe otherwise.

  • If anyone wants to see how the old trolleys used to look and run on Flatbush Avenue, check out the North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement Districts website at and click on the video gallery. There is a great vintage video showing the trolleys along Flatbush Avenue, Bergen and Fifth Avenue, Ninth Street. See if you can identify some of the shops.

  • Even if this plan were viable, it’d never see the light of day. The MTA can’t even finish the 2nd Avenue subway line after several decades, so how could they ever finish this? Bob Diamond has been fantasizing about this for years now. Silly.

  • About 20 years ago they got as far as the City Planning Commission with a proposal for a dedicated trolley R-O-W on 42nd Street in Manhattan. That one never happened, and it sure made a lot more sense than Bob Diamond’s 1:1 scale model railway.

  • I just took Bob Diamond’s Atlantic Ave. tunnel tour last Sunday, and the guy has indeed (as Kevin of Forgotten NY points out) been working to make this idea a reality for a very long time, without success. It’d be cool if the powers that be could finally pull it off.

  • I wish media would stop quoting the abrasive, unhinged, spinmeister that is Bob Diamond. Try doing some fact checking. He alienated all his funders and the neighbors adjoining his project in Red Hook with angry, accusatory, and increasingly paranoid tirades on top of a lack of progress on his project that affected others. He had two blocks of city street ripped up for several years and disrupted a large business on Reed Street; and his mess led to illegal dumping at the foot of Conover Street. But he used to fling down a few feet of track and write a press release, and BINGO more stories about the Trolley King appeared…

    As to the viability of trolley service, how do buried tracks constitute extant infrastructure? and Columbia street was finally repaved after about 3 years of work, so there are no longer tracks there. etc.

    the B61 is a nightmare, and the MTA is unresponsive. Red Hook might be better off with a fleet of private sector dollar vans that could respond rapidly to demand and the changing neighborhood demographic.