Forces opposed to Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole's plan to sell federally owned Conrail to Norfolk Southern Corp. stepped up their campaign to scuttle the sale yesterday.
The renewed assault came on the first day of a week in which it is conceivable, although unlikely, that the Senate will take up the necessary legislation to allow the sale to go forward.
Conrail's top executives, who oppose the sale, called a Washington news conference to announce their predictable conclusion that the proposal as it stands will "devastate, rather than preserve, rail competition." The Justice Department's antitrust division said last week that Norfolk Southern's latest proposal appears "on its face" to meet earlier antitrust objections.
Today, a coalition of other opponents to the Conrail sale will hold their own conference to explain why Dole's plan is a bad thing and why a group of investors organized by Morgan Stanley & Co. should have the inside track.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) told reporters the Conrail legislation is on the list of things "we would hope to pass" before the Senate adjourns for Christmas. However, the Senate is likely to take up several other major items, including a new federal debt ceiling and a continuing resolution to finance the government, before Conrail legislation. The earliest the Conrail issue could come up would be late this week, and Senate sources said they don't expect the bill, which already has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, to reach the Senate floor until next week.
It generally is anticipated that Conrail sales legislation cannot be voted on until its proponents defeat a filibuster, which takes 60 votes. Administration and Norfolk Southern officials say they think they can win that vote if they can just get the matter to the floor.
The Transportation Department contends that the only way to assure long-term stability for Conrail is to sell it to someone with "deep pockets" and a strong commitment to railroading. Norfolk Southern meets those definitions, according to DOT.