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Federal government / Transportation

Would a better Northeast rail corridor help Brooklyn businesses?

Following a federal report on the economic impact of improved Amtrak service in the U.S. Northeast corridor, Brooklyn tech firms share how rail improvements might help their businesses.

A Long Island Railroad Switch in East Flatbush, secured by a hardware store padlock. (Photo by Flickr user Steven Severinghaus, used under a Creative Commons license)

For Brooklyn tech firms pursuing customers, meeting with investors and moving employees, fast-moving, reliable transit between U.S. cities would be a business benefit.

The question follows a report this spring from the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, a young stakeholder group associated with the U.S. Department of Transportation that’s eager to promote Amtrak funding.

One of the biggest disruptions in New York City last year came from the September failure of the New Haven Line’s power supply. For almost two weeks Connecticut workers either stayed at home or added to the clogged roadways to get to offices in New York.

The problem may still be one of highway versus rail subsidies, but, whatever the cause, a train trip is pricey.

In fact, the train isn’t even that competitive with flying. An 8 a.m. flight from JFK to Reagan runs $271, at the time of this writing. A Megabus ticket on the same timeline costs $23.

The “The Northeast Corridor and the American Economy” report details the economic advantages of rail in the U.S. Northeast, but estimates going forward point to $1.2 billion in lost economic impact if the train system isn’t upgraded by 2025. On the flip side, with proper investment, the U.S. could see $8.2 billion gained by 2040, according to the report.

Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Director of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative, told Brooklyn that rail travel between New York City and Washington, D.C., by far outperforms flying, though most people who make the trip still drive. Even still, the NYC and DC Amtrak stations are the country’s two busiest.

“The system right now is very effective in the Northeast corridor,” Puentes said. “It’s not just a matter of ‘if you build it they will come.’ Those areas are actually connected economically.” So improving those connections makes it more cost effective for companies already doing business with nearby cities to get that business done.

Puentes was the lead author on a recent report on rail ridership, which shows that rail ridership is growing fast and that growth is driven by cities.

These points were illustrated by two local entrepreneurs we reached out to about how better train service could help them.

Jenie Fu, cofounder at OgoSport, spoke to the issue of warehousing and logistics.

Right now our warehousing is mostly in California because it’s closer to Asia, where most of our goods are produced. I can definitely foresee moving more products to the East Coast so that we can move products faster to our stores — most of them are on the East Coast,” she said. “There can be substantial savings in time and freight costs.”

We wrote about OgoSport’s new stop-motion animation kit last month

Chris Muscarella, CEO of Gowanus’s Kitchensurfing, which connects its users to chefs for hire, spoke to the travel costs of his company’s network for gourmet consultants. Faster trains that reached more places would allow the chefs in his network to create more experiences in more places.

He told, via email, “I’ve always said that the technology that would have the biggest impact on Kitchensurfing is teleportation — if we could send chefs anywhere in seconds. That might be asking a little much, but hour transit times between major cities would be a big step in that direction.”

Kitchensurfing raised a substantial investment round recently.

One of the RapGenius‘s cofounders, Tom Lehman, cared enough about transit that he built Better MetroNorth to help riders more easily navigate the rail system’s confusing schedule.

Companies: OgoSport / Genius / Kitchensurfing / Brookings Institution / Amtrak
Series: Brooklyn

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