Gasoline prices climb with the thermometer as summer approaches, while Congress fiddles with short-
term, feel-good relief measures that will only encourage more driving and more demand for the long
term. Congress should instead address fuel efficiency as a coherent national policy-one major piece of
which should be restoration of an effective national passenger rail system.
Railroads are incomparable in terms of fuel efficiency. The National Association of railroads, for
example, says it gets 423 miles to the gallon of diesel fuel per ton of freight. Amtrak estimates that its
trains in the Boston-Washington corridor, traveling at up to 95 miles per hour; average 53 passenger
miles per gallon.
So, when local rail advocates and their counterparts in New York state said this week that they hoped to
establish Amtrak passenger rail service from Binghamton to New York City, through Scranton and the
Poconos, it was in the larger contexts of soaring fuel prices, growing pressure for reduced greenhouse
gas emissions, and burgeoning congestion on all of the major interstates leading to New York, and
within Manhattan itself.
An effort already is under way to re-establish passenger service from Scranton to the New York City
area, with New Jersey Transit as the operator. The Amtrak option, with potential for service as far as
Syracuse to connect with Amtrak’s long-distance lines, is well worth pursuing.
The changing economic landscape favors the service. Gasoline could be in the $4-per-gallon range by
Memorial Day, and no one projects any substantial reductions in the foreseeable future. Tolls are certain
to increase on Delaware River and Hudson River crossings, and tolls could be established on Interstate
80 itself within Pennsylvania. The New York Legislature, so far, has rejected the establishment of
punitive tolls for driving in midtown Manhattan. But the city government wants it, and it has been
successful abroad in reducing congestion, so it could well happen. Together, those factors exponentially
increase the economic advantage of passenger rail.
Most of the debate about rail service usually swirls around operating subsidies, which can be
substantial. But those subsidies must be considered within the broader economic and environmental
contexts. Numbers have not yet been developed for the Amtrak proposal, but the general economy
clearly is making them more attractive already.