Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Slight decrease in oil prices only temporary

Just in case anyone needed to be reminded, scientist Joseph J. Romm has a piece on grist.org about how the dip in gas/oil prices we’re seeing is only a temporary reprieve:

John Hess, chairman of Hess Corp., a global oil and mineral exploration company, said recently, “An oil crisis is coming in the next 10 years. It’s not a matter of demand. It’s not a matter of supplies. It’s both.” In October, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of French oil company Total S.A., said that production of even 100 million barrels a day by 2030 will be “difficult.” In November, James Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhillips, the third biggest U.S. oil company, told a Wall Street conference: “I don’t think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day … Where is all that going to come from?”

Why does this matter? Because although Amtrak has been hitting record record ridership levels all over the country, the driving force behind this trend has been fuel prices. If politicians, being the fickle creatures they are, don’t think that prices are going to stay up, they won’t see the point in investing in Amtrak after years of neglect (despite that just being one of many reasons we need intercity rail).

I wish I could say that we’re not so shortsighted as to believe that this is the end of the fuel crisis, but I saw a piece on the local news the other day about how SUV sales at area dealerships have spiked in recent weeks due to lower gasoline prices. This is exactly the kind of thinking that prevented us from addressing this issue 25 years ago.

HT to Streetsblog’s daily update for the original source.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Travel Woes,

4 Responses

  1. Allan says:

    Even tho the price of oil is probably well above where it should be due to speculation and the falling dollar, I don’t think people are really going to think that cheap gas will return.

    It’s up to Amtrak to take advantage of the increase in riders (and the increase in revenue) … not Congress. Congress doesn’t run Amtrak and the goal from the beginning was to wean Amtrak away from federal dollars.

    If Amtrak fails to hold on the passengers growth or even increase it, then the blame falls squarely on the management of Amtrak … not Congress.

  2. toast2042 says:

    Hmm, it got so bad that people started looking for alternative to being enslaved to the oil giants and prices magically dropped like a rock….

    Amtrak can provide a greater return for investment in improved economics than keeping us in cars, but no fat cats get the proceeds, which is why no one’s fighting for it.

  3. Robert says:

    The price of gas is really irrelevant below a certain figure which I would suggest to be double the recent highs. How many “choice” transit riders have you heard around the water cooler discussing seriously riding the bus to work? I have heard none and live where gas is some of the most expensive in the country (California).

    Mass transit in the United States is – relative to travel by private automobile – incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient. With such knocks against it, most consider taking transit completely lost time that they could spend with their kids or in front of the tv watching Lost. This is a fair criticisim — taking the bus everyday myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that transit planners built the system for people for whom time is of no cost. It’s really the only explanation.

    It’s time for this country to get serious with mass transit and new ideas for urban development because the freeway lifestyle is just not sustainable, no matter what the “Let’s drill our way out of it” set would suggest.

    This needs to be done at the ground roots

    Some transit supporters would suggest that the solution to getting people onto transit is to build beautiful dream rail systems. That will show them, this wisdom goes — they’ll see this great system and hop on the train. While this certainly has been effective in many mid-sized American cities that have endeavored upon the light-rail experiment, it’s led to a hodge-podge of glorified demonstration lines (eg. Houston, San Diego, Denver before T-Rex, Jacksonville.)

    A better way to go is to get buy-in from the start. When transit planners pitch rail to the people, don’t say “Well, why don’t you just give us a chance and we’ll see what happens?” Go in and show them how this has been effective elsewhere, demonstrating how this can affect the community, can affect their commute and allow them to live a lifestyle that’s more in tune with the reality of the next century.

    Get a mandate for building a great transit system from the get-go — one that’s planned from start to finish as a coherent transit system.

  4. Allan says:

    Robert – Mass transit rail and intercity rail are two different creatures. They may occasionally share the same track but that is all.

    Laying rail is an expensive proposition. It’s one thing if the rail is already there and not being fully used; it’s a whole different ball game to install it.

    As for mass transit rail … IMHO, in most cases the best way to go are either a subway or and elevated rail like a monorail. Hugh costs savings can be had by automating those. LR usually shares the road on at least part of the route which subjects it to the same traffic snarls … I know, I’ve been stuck in a light rail car on the street in a traffic jam … After that, I have become completely opposed to LR unless it is elevated or at least separated from traffic. It doesn’t make sense to spend all that money only to get stuck in traffic with cars!

    As for intercity rail, we need to make better use of what we have but in the end there will need to be new lines built. Here again, I’m oppose to High Speed Rail. New expensive tracks must be laid. IMHO, it’s better to go with maglev at that point. If you must build new tracks, then elevated it and make it really fast.

    Rail just for the sake of rail is doomed to an expensive failure.

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