Energy prices are high. For all intents and purposes, they are going to stay high - maybe get higher. While the price of oil might fall back to a previously unimaginable $100 per barrel, the long term trend is going to be for it to increase. Why? Because demand is increasing much faster than supply is able to increase. And, as I pointed out in an earlier post, even the Bush administration doesn't think that opening up ANWR and the offshore continental shelf will do much, if anything to reduce prices.
So, with the reality that gasoline is going to stay expensive, what should the state of Maryland do for its citizens? The citizens of Maryland have already voted on that; ridership on MARC and on the Washington Metro is setting new records regularly. Ridership on Amtrak is up sharply and, in fact, may trains are sold out well into the future. Ridership on local and regional bus systems has increased sharply. Maryland needs to invest more in mass transit.
And we need to begin now. Like anything else, mass transit takes time to build. While the state is spending more than a billion dollars building the Inter-County Connector, passengers are flocking to MARC and Metro trains and to the Baltimore light rail, and the overcrowding is just going to get worse. Now is the time to begin expanding the infrastructure, building the new stations and parking for the new residents that will be coming with BRAC and ordering the new cars that are already needed. The state needs to invest in expanding and modernizing its long-distance commuter bus network and beefing up the weak public transportation networks in its rural areas.
And we can do more than that. The photo above shows the Eurostar and Thalys trains side-by-side at the Gare du Nord in Paris. While we've been fiddling around in this country with slow and inefficient long-distance rail passenger service, the Europeans have built an efficient network of high-speed passenger rail trains, among them the Eurostar, which runs between London and Paris and between London and Brussels and the Thalys which links Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp and Cologne.
These trains run on dedicated rail lines at top speeds of 186 mph. Travel time, for example, on the 190 mile route between Paris and Brussels is one hour and 22 minutes. At those speeds, the travel time by train between Washington and New York could be one hour and 40 minutes or less. We just need to spend the money (which would be a lot) to upgrade the track.
So Maryland should partner with the other Northeastern states to upgrade rail passenger service in the Northeast corridor. The congress will never appropriate the kind of money that Amtrak nees to upgrade its service nationwide and that wouldn't make any sense anyway - rail travel - even high speed rail travel - will never compete with air travel in the wide open spaces of the great plains and the west.
But here in the more densely-packed northeast, high-speed rail travel can and should be the first option for intercity travel. It's something we can and should do to help reduce our transportation costs and energy use. In the meantime, we need to get to work here in Maryland building a mass transit system that will get us off the roads and help us use less gas.