Rail unions try to derail federal cuts

Railroad unions are united to oppose the Reagan administration's proposals to reduce federal funding of Amtrak and Conrail. Budget-cutting planned for these transportation programs could precipitate "the most serious crisis for railroad workers since the dismal days of the 1930 depression," according to Fred J. Kroll, chairman of the Railway Labor Executives Association (RLEA).

Reduced federal support would mean "dangers not only for railroad transportation, but for the entire economy," the RLEA warns. Amtrak cuts "would virtually destroy the passenger system forever," and freight service would be severely limited.

President Reagan has proposed large reductions in federal funds for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), the nation's most important inter-city rail passenger service, and even bigger reductions for the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), which operates freight and commuter trains in the Northeast and Midwest.

Rail unions contend that the reduction of federal aid for Amtrak would "dismantle 75 percent of its passenger service at a time when it is increasingly popular with the traveling public." Only Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service would be left intact. About 21,000 of 26,000 Amtrak jobs would be affected.

The Reagan administration also has urged Congress to reduce financial support of Conrail from a requested $2 billion for the next five years to $300 million over two years followed by a cutoff in 1983. It proposes transferring main freight service to private railroads and turning over to state or local authorities the burden of subsidizing -- or abandoning -- commuter or other service.

The unions estimate this would cost 50,000 jobs. The US Department of Transportation concedes it would eliminate 10,000 to 20,000 w orkers on the 17, 000-mile system.

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