Like the health care system, the way we pay for transportation in this country creates some backward thinking.

Just as extremely expensive emergency-room care can seem like the least expensive option to a consumer, a system of government subsidies can make a trip by car look like the cheapest way to go, even though it is costly for the whole system.

But, also like the health care system, the current method of highway financing is unsustainable and we had better come up with more efficient alternatives to get around or be prepared to pay a lot more.

That’s why the expansion of passenger rail between Portland and Brunswick is such good news. On its face, it looks like a lot of federal money ($35 million) to be spent on a train that would at first run only infrequently (twice a day).

But this investment creates opportunity to expand. At first, it will mostly be useful for tourists, who provide the income to what’s often called Maine’s biggest industry. In time the rails may be used for more frequent commuter travel.

If gas prices, which are currently depressed by the international recession, climb to 2007 prices and beyond, Maine people will be hungry for alternatives.

It could affect their choices of where they work and live, and many will be happy that this investment in a rail option was made.