In recent years, railroads have been combining with each other, merging into supersystems, causing heightened concerns about monopoly. As recently as 1995, the top four railroads accounted for under 70 percent of the total ton-miles moved by rails. Next year, after a series of mergers is completed, just four railroads will control well over 90 percent of all the freight moved by major rail carriers.
Supporters of the new supersystems argue that these mergers will allow for substantial cost reductions and better coordinated service. Any threat of monopoly, they argue, is removed by fierce competition from trucks. But many shippers complain that for heavy bulk commodities traveling long distances, such as coal, chemicals, and grain, trucking is too costly and the railroads therefore have them by the throat.
The vast consolidation within the rail industry means that most shippers are served by only one rail company. Railroads typically charge such “captive” shippers 20 to 30 percent more than they do when another railroad is competing for the business. Shippers who feel they are being overcharged have the right to appeal to the federal government’s Surface Transportation Board for rate relief, but the process is expensive, time-consuming, and will work only in truly extreme cases.
Railroads justify rate discrimination against captive shippers on the grounds that in the long run it reduces everyone’s cost. If railroads charged all customers the same average rate, they argue, shippers who have the option of switching to trucks or other forms of transportation would do so, leaving remaining customers to shoulder the cost of keeping up the line. It’s a theory to which many economists subscribe, but in practice it often leaves railroads in the position of determining which companies will flourish and which will fail. “Do we really want railroads to be the arbiters of who wins and who loses in the marketplace?” asks Martin Bercovici, a Washington lawyer who frequently represents shippers.
Many captive shippers also worry they will soon be hit with a round of huge rate increases. The railroad industry as a whole, despite its brightening fortunes, still does not earn enough to cover the cost of the capital it must invest to keep up with its surging traffic. Yet railroads continue to borrow billions to acquire one another, with Wall Street cheering them on. Consider the $10.2 billion bid by Norfolk Southern and CSX to acquire Conrail this year. Conrail’s net railway operating income in 1996 was just $427 million, less than half of the carrying costs of the transaction. Who’s going to pay for the rest of the bill? Many captive shippers fear that they will, as Norfolk Southern and CSX increase their grip on the market.
51. According to those who support mergers, railway monopoly is unlikely because ________.
[A] cost reduction is based on competition
[B] services call for cross-trade coordination
[C] outside competitors will continue to exist
[D] shippers will have the railway by the throat
52. What is many captive shippers’ attitude towards the consolidation in the rail industry?
53. It can be inferred from Paragraph 3 that ________.
[A] shippers will be charged less without a rival railroad
[B] there will soon be only one railroad company nationwide
[C] overcharged shippers are unlikely to appeal for rate relief
[D] a government board ensures fair play in railway business
54. The word “arbiters” (Line 7, Paragraph 4) most probably refers to those ________.
[A] who work as coordinators
[B] who function as judges
[C] who supervise transactions
[D] who determine the price
55. According to the text, the cost increase in the rail industry is mainly caused by ________.
[A] the continuing acquisition
[B] the growing traffic
[C] the cheering Wall Street
[D] the shrinking market
It is said that in England death is pressing, in Canada inevitable and in California optional. Small wonder. Americans’ life expectancy has nearly doubled over the past century. Failing hips can be replaced, clinical depression controlled, cataracts removed in a 30-minute surgical procedure. Such advances offer the aging population a quality of life that was unimaginable when I entered medicine 50 years ago. But not even a great health-care system can cure death -- and our failure to confront that reality now threatens this greatness of ours.
Death is normal; we are genetically programmed to disintegrate and perish, even under ideal conditions. We all understand that at some level, yet as medical consumers we treat death as a problem to be solved. Shielded by third-party payers from the cost of our care, we demand everything that can possibly be done for us, even if it’s useless. The most obvious example is late-stage cancer care. Physicians -- frustrated by their inability to cure the disease and fearing loss of hope in the patient -- too often offer aggressive treatment far beyond what is scientifically justified.
In 1950, the U.S. spent $12.7 billion on health care. In 2002, the cost will be $1,540 billion. Anyone can see this trend is unsustainable. Yet few seem willing to try to reverse it. Some scholars conclude that a government with finite resources should simply stop paying for medical care that sustains life beyond a certain age -- say 83 or so. Former Colorado governor Richard Lamm has been quoted as saying that the old and infirm “have a duty to die and get out of the way,” so that younger, healthier people can realize their potential.
I would not go that far. Energetic people now routinely work through their 60s and beyond, and remain dazzlingly productive. At 78, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone jokingly claims to be 53. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is in her 70s, and former surgeon general C. Everett Koop chairs an Internet start-up in his 80s. These leaders are living proof that prevention works and that we can manage the health problems that come naturally with age. As a mere 68-year-old, I wish to age as productively as they have.
Yet there are limits to what a society can spend in this pursuit. As a physician, I know the most costly and dramatic measures may be ineffective and painful. I also know that people in Japan and Sweden, countries that spend far less on medical care, have achieved longer, healthier lives than we have. As a nation, we may be overfunding the quest for unlikely cures while underfunding research on humbler therapies that could improve people’s lives.
56. What is implied in the first sentence?
[A] Americans are better prepared for death than other people.
[B] Americans enjoy a higher life quality than ever before.
[C] Americans are over-confident of their medical technology.
[D] Americans take a vain pride in their long life expectancy.
57. The author uses the example of cancer patients to show that ________.
[A] medical resources are often wasted
[B] doctors are helpless against fatal diseases
[C] some treatments are too aggressive
[D] medical costs are becoming unaffordable
58. The author’s attitude toward Richard Lamm’s remark is one of ________.
[A] strong disapproval
[B] reserved consent
[C] slight contempt
[D] enthusiastic support
59. In contrast to the U.S., Japan and Sweden are funding their medical care ________.
[A] more flexibly
[B] more extravagantly
[C] more cautiously
[D] more reasonably
60. The text intends to express the idea that ________.
[A] medicine will further prolong people’s lives
[B] life beyond a certain limit is not worth living
[C] death should be accepted as a fact of life
[D] excessive demands increase the cost of health care