The Buffalo News



February 1, 2001

KEVIN COLLISON; News Staff Reporter

After slumbering in Buffalo for a decade, a dozen old trolley cars from Cleveland are finding new life at last -- but not here. They're headed to Brooklyn.

The NFTA wants to sell the trolleys it bought in 1990 as part of an ill-fated effort to extend Metro Rail service to the Tonawandas. It now appears that they will be going instead to a Brooklyn entrepreneur who wants them for a light-rail idea of his own. "It sounds like we have a deal here, and it comes at a serendipitous moment," said Robert Diamond, founder of the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association.

Diamond wants to use the 52-year-old cars to create a light-rail line that would link the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn to the borough's downtown and from there to a waterfront park planned near the Brooklyn Bridge.

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials insist that their decision to sell the aging trolley cars does not mean that the idea of extending the Metro Rail along an abandoned railroad route to the City of Tonawanda is officially dead.

"I don't know if the sale of these cars is a statement about the Tonawanda turnout or any extensions," said Lawrence M. Meckler, NFTA executive director. "It's more about the condition of the cars.

"The condition is such that, even if we'd consider an extension, we'd want something more reliable that would require less refurbishing."

The NFTA spent $ 88,000 to buy, ship and store the dozen cars from the Cleveland transit system 11 years ago. The idea at the time was to fix them and create a relatively inexpensive extension of Metro Rail from the LaSalle Station to the City of Tonawanda.

The cost of the project, which would have used former Conrail tracks, was estimated at $ 26.5 million. The NFTA, however, was unsuccessful in enlisting the necessary support from communities to subsidize the route, and the idea was shelved in 1992.
The cars have been stored since their arrival in the South Park Yard &

Shop complex inside the old DL&W terminal. Metro Rail mechanics managed to repair one of the trolleys for test runs, but the other 11 have remained dormant.

In recent years the NFTA has tried to sell them, but until Diamond came along, there were no takers.

"We were on a fishing expedition to see what kind of money we could get for them," said James Nagle, acting general manager of the NFTA Rail Division. "They're not getting any younger sitting there, and we had to do something with them."

Diamond has agreed to pay $ 1,000 for each for 11 cars -- the NFTA wants to hold on to one -- but the big issue to be resolved is how soon he can move them to Brooklyn.

NFTA officials want them out as quickly as possible. If the timing can be resolved, the matter could be considered by the NFTA board by March.

"If we can come to terms on the schedule for removal, I'd hope board members would approve it," Nagle said.

Diamond, who described himself as financially independent, already owns four other vintage trolley cars, including an 1897 model from Oslo, Norway, and has built a half-mile demonstration track in Red Hook.

He hopes to find enough community support to win a $ 200,000 federal transportation grant this year and obtain the necessary city approvals for his grand plan to bring his trolley route to the Brooklyn Heights waterfront.

"I do this because I want to," he said.

GRAPHIC: News file photo; A dozen old trolley cars such as this one were purchased from Cleveland by the NFTA in 1990 for what proved to be unfulfilled hopes for extending light-rail service to the Tonawandas.


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