What’s wrong with this picture?(A)
In early December of 2004, newly arrived in Sweden from the United States, my husband and I made our way through an airport terminal to the Arlanda Express commuter train, which carried us about twenty miles to Stockholm Central Station. In Central Station we hung out for over an hour, nervously checking the designated track for our departure. Right on time the train pulled in and pulled out, totally full of Sunday morning European travelers.
The web site of Arlanda (commuter) Express summarizes one of the reasons why any developed country should support its rail systems:
“Not only is the Arlanda Express the fastest way to travel between Stockholm and Arlanda, it is also by far the most environment-friendly way. Firstly, electric trains do not generate any environmentally hazardous emissions at all. Secondly, Arlanda Express trains have been powered by electricity from renewable sources since the spring of 2001. In 2003, more than 2.5 million passengers took the Arlanda Express. As a result, environmentally hazardous emissions of carbon dioxide (CO 2) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) were reduced by 4,900 tonnes and 1.4 tonnes, respectively, compared with the emissions that would have resulted from these passengers traveling by car.”
The European rail web site offers additional basic logic: “The major cities are linked by the extensive European rail network — a vast system stretching over 160,000 miles, as extensive in size and scope as the U.S. highway system. And train travel eliminates all the hassles that can play a part in a complex itinerary. This means travel city center to city center, no maneuvering through crowded airports located miles from the nearest city, no hailing taxis from airport to downtown, no traffic headaches driving in and out of big cities …”
Back in the U.S., it is heartbreaking to read that the White House is proposing to eliminate the $1.2 billion in subsidies for Amtrak, which could force the rail line into bankruptcy. Among comparisons that reflect sad national priorities is the fact that Amtrak’s current subsidy equals less than 1.5% of the $82 billion 2005 supplemental war budget. The income tax cuts of June 2001, which lowered the top rate from 39.6% to 35% for people with taxable income over $326,450 in 2005, will likely cost $74 billion through 2013, representing 7.7 times the annual Amtrak subsidy. A headline in the February 21, 2005, Barron’s blared “Crazy for Poker – online gambling is booming, with poker sites alone expected to take in $2 billion this year.” And finally, if temporary provisions in the corporate tax bill are made permanent, revenues could be decreased by almost $80 billion through 2014, or another annual revenue loss 7.7 times the Amtrak subsidy. What’s wrong with this picture?