S. Berliner, III's Courtesy Page for the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association
keywords = trolley Brooklyn Historic Railway Association road transit traction tram PCC car train track wire catenary Long Island electric Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Diamond
Updated:  27 Jul 2020; 18:00  ET
(Created 19 Dec 2000)
[Ref:  This is bhra.html  (URL http://sbiii.com/bhra.html;
formerly at http://home.att.net/~Berliner-Ultrasonics/bhra.html)]

S. Berliner, III's Courtesy Page for the

Brooklyn Historic
Railway Association


Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

disclaim - This page is woefully out of date; I am only making minimal corrections and updates and not worrying much about new and rev icons (29 Mar 2015)  Current comments and material are mostly enclosed in braces {curly brackets}.  See also Current News, below.

This page is basically unindexed so far, except for:

The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association - follows.

Trolleys (about nomenclature) {moved to RR page 4 on 10 Feb 2005}.

BHRA Links.

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.

New Material.   new (29 Mar 2015)

note-rt.gif - The word (12 Aug 2003) was that something has gone terribly wrong at the BHRA and things are at a standstill, with a splinter group and all sorts of problems; Bob Diamond's own information on the BHRA site's "Project News & Updates" does not bode well for any of the projects noted below!  This is a dismaying prospect, indeed, and I think I will leave it at this and wait to see what devolves.

Well, what seems to have devolved is that the whole operation went belly-up in 2004!  What a shame. (10 Feb 2005)

URGENT! - SAVE THE TROLLEYS! - This quotation from the NEW YORK TIMES was passed around so much that it is virtually public property and I trust they'll not crucufy me for repeating it here: (14 Feb 2005)

Trolley Cars in a Jam: Time to Roll, but Nowhere to Go
JAKE MOONEY, NY Times, February 13, 2005

"Life in New York is a story of square footage. All over the city, apartment dwellers fret about finding enough space for a growing family, or squeezing that one last chair into a crowded living room.

Jan Lorenzen and Arthur Melnick of Brooklyn are facing a similar quandary, albeit on a somewhat larger scale.

Mr. Lorenzen and Mr. Melnick, the founders of the nonprofit Brooklyn City Streetcar Company {the splinter group?}, need to find a home for 11 abandoned trolley cars, weighing 20 tons apiece, and they need to find one fast.

The cars have resided at the Brooklyn Navy Yard since 2001, taken there by a different group {the BHRA}, which had hoped to build a trolley line along the Red Hook waterfront.  When that plan fell apart and the group was evicted for not paying rent, the cars stayed.

'We consider them abandoned property,' said Eric Deutsch, president of the development corporation that manages the navy yard, now an industrial park.  'We'd love to find somewhere else for them to go and somebody who wants to take them, but ultimately they can't stay here.'

Enter Mr. Lorenzen and Mr. Melnick, who have proposed trolley lines in Coney Island or in the planned Brooklyn Bridge Park.  In a predicament that was first reported in The Brooklyn Paper, a weekly, Mr. Deutsch has said they can have the cars free but must find a way to move them and a place to put them (Manhattan Mini Storage, anyone?) while they perform repairs.

Considering the cars' size - each is 50 feet long and 10 feet high, bigger than most city buses - the task is easier said than done.

'We've gotten a few bites, and we're looking at a few things,' Mr. Melnick said, 'but it's difficult.  Land is at a premium in New York these days.'"


So, who can rescue these cars before it's too late?

It now (06 Jun 2005) appears no one could and the cars have been hauled away (per Brooklyn Newspapers); damn!

{Apparently all but three (or only one), now at the Branford Electric Railway Association's Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut, have been scrapped!}   new (29 Mar 2015)

note-rt.gif - [In what follows, the present tense was appropriate and has not been changed but this is now all historical, no longer of the present.] (14 Feb 2005)

The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association - a great group of trolley, traction, and transit (and railroad and history, etc.) enthusiasts who have banded together to restore, preserve, and operate "trolley" cars in the former great City of Brooklyn (now the Borough of Brooklyn, New York City), Kings County, Long Island, New York.

The BRHA has, and runs, Car No. 3, an 1897 "trolley" car from Oslo, Norway, which was brought here in 1970 and ran for a brief while under the Manhattan Bridge on the Jay Street Connecting RR.  The car was reputedly used personally at one time by the King of Norway.  It somewhat resembles a narrow single-truck Birney and was built in Nuremberg, Germany by Elecktr. Aktieselsk. F. Schuckert & Co. (their Mschr. Act. Ges. No. 305).

Car No. 3 originally was fitted with a pantagraph but has since been retrofitted with a trolley pole; when I first ran across it under the Manhattan Bridge, it was running on the end of a very long extension cord (I kid you NOT!).

The Association also has aquired no less than fifteen (15!) PCC cars from Boston and Cleveland, which they hope to run in downtown Brooklyn on local revenue and tourist service, plus an ex-U. S. Army 20-ton Vulcan gasoline-powered switcher.

The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association is the original non-profit organization formed by Bob Diamond and others back in 1982.  One of the things the BHRA did and continues to do, is work on the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (see below).  The primary project, however, is the trolley project in Red Hook, and now the BHRA has added a second project to its plate, street running, although the concept is to ultimately connect the two.  The official title for the trolley is the "Brooklyn Heritage Trolley Project", but folks (including Bob) began referring to it as the "Brooklyn Trolley Museum".

note-rt.gif  BIG NEWS!

The BHRA now (16 Apr 2002) has it's own Website, http://www.brooklynrail.net/! {.net was .com - updated link as of 30 Mar 2015 - SB,III}   rev (30 Mar 2015)

Here are the photos, taken at the "Brooklyn Trolley Museum" by Bob Diamond, that I had promised in Dec 00:

We start with Jan Lorenzen, who with Kevin Fitzgerald, is the core of the car restoration department, although the track and traction power construction guys {what, no gals?} help out with the cars too, as needed; here he is cranking away in the cab of one of the Boston PCCs, followed by some PCC body work, and a cab interior shot:


Next, we see a second cab interior shot and a MG (motor-generator) set, cleaned up, with new brushes, and running, and, lastly, a restored pneumatic door engine system:


TROLLEYS - Trolleys (about nomenclature) {moved to RR page 4 on 10 Feb 2005}.


First and foremost,

note-rt.gif  BIG NEWS!

The BHRA now (16 Apr 2002) has it's own Website, http://www.brooklynrail.net/! {.net was .com - updated link as of 30 Mar 2015 - SB,III}   rev (30 Mar 2015)

The tunnel link is now http://www.brooklynrail.net/proj_aatunnel.html and the trolley link is now http://www.brooklynrail.net/bhra_fleet.html (however outdated).   added (30 Mar 2015)

The "Brooklyn Historic Railway Assn." section of Dave's http://davesrailpix.railfan.net/nyc/brook.htm Brooklyn page, {dead link deleted 29 Mar 2015 - SB,III}


Railnutter's "http://home.att.net/~railnutternews2/Brooklyn.html The Brooklyn Historic Trolley" section, Issue 17, of Railnutter News, {dead link deleted 29 Mar 2015 - SB,III}

both of which are {were} replete with photos of the trolleys and their environs.

My fellow (Long Island) Motor Parkway Panel member, Kevin Walsh, has/had great coverage of the BHRA on his no-longer-valid "Diamond in the Rough" page, now most unfortunately updated (as of 13 Feb 2014) to Red Hook Trolleys Removed, in turn on his fantastic "Forgotten New York" site.

  Shore Line has a sad press release about the trolleys dated 11 Feb 2014.

Bill Russell's encyclopedic rr.html#pennybrg Penny Bridge rail site covers the BHRA as "Brooklyn Trolley Museum". {dead link deleted 29 Mar 2015 - SB,III}

See also David Pirmann's "Brooklyn" segment of his NYCSubway site. {still valid - 29 Mar 2015}}

Don Ross, my "Boxcab buddy", also has {old} coverage on his New York Trolley Lines page on his extensive Don's Depot (rail photos) site. {It's now alphabetal and you'll have to scro;; down about ¼ of the page to "Brooklyn Historic Railway Association" - 29 Mar 2015}

Saul Blum's The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel pages (with old maps). {still valid - 29 Mar 2015}

Dear to my (SB,III's) heart are early ALCo-GE-IR (and other) Boxcab Oil-Electrics (Diesels) and you also might wish to take a look at my Railroads, Pennsylvania RR (PRR), Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal RR (BEDT), Degnon Terminal RR, Marion River Carry RR, Model Railroading, ALCo, EMD - Electro-Motive Division of GM, and Z-Scale (1:220) Model Railroading pages, etc.

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

The same Bob Diamond (bowtrolley@email.msn.com) who is a mover in the BHRA is also the "discoverer" of the long-lost, fabled, legendary, buried, abandoned, old LIRR Atlantic Avenue Tunnel - this is an actual ancient tunnel under the hump* on Atlantic Avenue just east of the Brooklyn waterfront, built in 1844, last used in 1859, and sealed up in 1861.  The web sites about the tunnel leave out the most interesting and least-believable yarn ever.  It seems that one of the LIRR's earliest engines. ca. 1840, after the Ariel and Post Boy (possibly a high-wheeler made in England), was never striken from the detailed records, the only one whose disposition is unknown!  When Bob Diamond first resurrected the tunnel, the story was bandied about that a legend had this missing loco still buried in the tunnel!  A very old man Bob (or someone) supposedly interviewed remembered playing in his basement as a little boy and falling through a collapsed wall onto the right-of-way of the old tunnel and seeing an ancient loco with giant iron tires on rotted-out wooden wheels leaning against the wall of the tunnel; the description fits the missing engine.  Only some half or so of the tunnel has been excavated to date and the idea that the old loco is buried in there is simply fascinating (and too good to be true)!  More on this on Bill Russell's Penny Bridge rr.html#pennybrg steam-under-nyc page and Saul Blum's The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel pages (with old maps) and David Pirman's "Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, Brooklyn" segment of his NYCSubway site.

Bob further advises that that old fellow mentioned had been interviewed by the Daily News and that the spot where his building was is now the exit ramp of the BQE (Brooklyn Queens expressway - Coises!  Ferled again!).  Ca. 1990, a contractor did some pro-bono work for Bob and dug three holes in Atlantic Avenue between Hicks and Columbia Streets, where Bob showed him to dig, using an old map Bob has (see the "Blum" link, above).  He hit the tunnel at all three spots and they found the portal area and, 18 feet down, what appeared to be a brick platform.  Bob reports that the walls were granite, with a sort of "panelled" effect carved in.  The holes were 3' x 3', so not much was exposed.  The idea was to keep the holes open and continue the excavation, but someone from the Dinkins administration (not Dinkins himself) put the kibosh on the project, even though the work was done under permit.  That contractor also put in the larger manhole though which access is made today.  Only ca. 1997, the City attempted to remove the tunnel entirely (for ease of running underground utilities) and was thwarted by concerned citizens!  Work will, hopefully, be resumed under a more benevolent and culturally-concerned City administration.

New Material -

Walt Whitman wrote of the tunnel:

"The old tunnel, that used to lie there under ground, a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness, now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten, with all its reminiscences; however, there will, for a few years yet be many dear ones, to not a few Brooklynites, New Yorkers, and promiscuous crowds besides.  For it was here you started to go down the island, in summer.  For years, it was confidently counted on that this spot, and the railroad of which it was the terminus, were going to prove the permanent seat of business and wealth that belong to such enterprises.  But its glory, after enduring in great splendor for a season, has now vanished - at least its Long Island Railroad glory has.  The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent.  How beautiful look earth and heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom!  It might not be unprofitable, now and then, to send us mortals - the dissatisfied ones, at least, and that's a large proportion - into some tunnel of several days' journey.  We'd perhaps grumble less, afterward, at God's handiwork."

as quoted by Kevin Walsh on his "Forgotten New York" site.   added (30 Mar 2015)

{Because so many of the Tunnel pictures and drawings are missing, I dug up a diagram of the Tunnel:


and patched together a map of the Tunnel location:   new (29 Mar 2015)

[29 Mar 2015 composite map by S. Berliner, III = all rights reserved]
(Click on thumbnailed image for larger picture)

{I extended this upward to show the tunnel site.}

{Old material continues}

This is a new drawing of an old tunnel drawn by the BHRA; I will, hopefully, get a bigger and sharper image for you:

Atlantic Av. Tun. Dwg.

* - I'm no Brooklynite, but it seems to me that the hill is Cobble Hill and I know that the small locomotives of the time were unable to surmount it, which is why the tunnel was built, certainly an expensive and time-consuming process in those days of hand work. {I may have called it Boerum Hill, slightly to the east, in error at some point - see map above:}   added (29 Mar 2015)

L.I.'s NEWSDAY had an article (undated), "A Long-Lost Tunnel in Brooklyn", by Sidney C. Schaer, Staff Writer.

Pratt Institute's Architecture Students intended to break ground "in constructing an entry to the oldest subway in the world:  The 1844 Atlantic Avenue Railroad Tunnel" in the Summer of 1996 and there is an illustrated story on this; unfortunately, however, their School of Architecture burned down then (is there a moral here?) and they never got around to the project.

There was a high-res. picture inside the tunnel at http://www.concentric.net/~Hwein/tunnel.htm Harve Wein's site (not all his photos are so innocuous, though, and may capture your server).

On 01 May 2000, Tama Janowitz, a Brooklyn novelist, http://www.edificerex.com/content_areas/content_detail.asp?contentID=1494&genreID=40, wrote "Shades of New York: A Historical Family Outing - The oldest subway tunnel in the world is also a jet-set playground" for the EdificeRex site, an upscale NYC Webzine (developing and maintaining intranets for buildings participating in the EdificeRex Network).

There are also endless brief mentions of the Tunnel on many other Websites.

WELL!  That "old" man was only "old" by young Bob Diamond's standards back in 1981!  Per an article by Albert Davila in the 11 Sep 1981 issue of the New York Daily News, "There is so a locomotive in there, he says", the "old" man was then-55-year-old Brooklyn seaman Juan Vega (who passed away ca. 1990).  He used to live in a tenement house at 64 Atlantic Avenue and played in a hole in the basement, which he and his friends enlarged, allowing them to crawl into the tunnel.  My how the story changes; Post Office (the game), anyone?  Vega remembered a big locomotive, much older than the kind he saw in Western movies, sitting on wooden ties in the section between Hicks and Columbia Streets; it had a brass panel with the builder's data (name, date, etc.), which they used to polish, but he no longer remembered what it said (damn!).

[The foregoing information is from a copy of the Daily News article noted,
    courtesy of R. Diamond.  Bob has sent me many photos which appear below. ]

There's only one appropriate response to all this:

"Dig we must, for a better New York is up to you!"

The The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (as of 07 Sep 1989); I personally think it should be listed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and on the Historic American Engineering Record, as well.

Now, as with the Brooklyn Trolley Museum photos above, Bob Diamond has also furnished detailed photos and captioning for the AAT:

We start with test borings between Hicks & Columbia Streets.  Before digging, Bob had a pro-bono contractor drill test borings; the top photo shows the drill rig and the lower shows brick grindings from the tunnel roof coming up the auger:

AAT Test Bore pix

Here is an image of the West Portal area where the digging exposed what Bob terms "paneled granite" in the wing walls:

AAT Pan Gran W Portal

Next we have site preparation for the test pits.  Note how with just a little care, the asphalt and concrete can be easily removed to expose very usable belgian block paving and trolley tracks; one might well wish the contractors that CDOT hires were capable of doing quality work like this:

AAT site prep pix

Note that that is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway overpass in the background of the top picture, the site of our friend Juan Vega's former home.

This is the approach ramp right by the West Portal; note the transition from granite block to brick.  Also, note the pin-point accurate test boring hole in the brick from the day previous.  This area last saw daylight in 1861.  Thanks to a "misguided", or possibly "miscreant" NYC bureaucrat of the Dinkin's administration, and his buddy, a gun-happy "inspector", it may never again see the light of day (nothing like "bully-boy" tactics to discourage preservation! - SB,III):

AAT W Ramp Grp 1 pix

This was the second location at the West Portal area.  The top photo shows cutting through the brick roof; note the tunnel is filled in at this area, as it is by the present manhole entrance at Court Street.  The middle photo shows a cross-sectional view of Atlantic Avenue; note the belgian block, trolley rail and ties, and then the brick arch of the tunnel roof under the RR tie.  In the bottom view, the brick platform was seen about 3 feet deeper than where the person is standing.

AAT W Ramp Grp 2 pix

On Art Huneke's ARRt's ARRchives Atlantic Avenue RR page, you will find old maps of this area.

I believe that's it for the nonce - beeeecause:

note-rt.gif  BIG NEWS!

The BHRA now (16 Apr 2002) has it's own Website, http://www.brooklynrail.net/! {.net was .com - updated link as of 30 Mar 2015 - SB,III}   rev (30 Mar 2015)

* note-rt.gif - [In what precedes, the present tense was appropriate and has not been changed but this is now all historical, no longer of the present (and the link is dead).] (14 Feb 2005)

disclaim - This page is woefully out of date; I am only making minimal corrections and updates and not worrying much about new and rev icons (29 Mar 2015)  Current comments and material are mostly enclosed in braces {curly brackets}.

Current News -

What instigated my update, is that I heard from Simi Horwitz, a writer who has "written an in-depth profile of {Bob} Diamond that was published Feb 8 {2015} in an online magazine: www.realityworldofviews.com."  "Here's a link to that story: http://realityworldofviews.com/2015/02/the-strange-and-sad-life-of-bob-diamond/" and she's "in the process of writing a follow up piece".   new (29 Mar 2015)

Well, I dunno about the above but, on a whim, I tried again and Bob Diamond has his site up and running yet again, although the latest date I could find is 2018!   new (27 Jul 2020)

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S. Berliner, III

Consultant in Ultrasonic Processing
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