NORFOLK -- Norfolk Southern Corp.'s plan to drop 3,400 jobs and 2,700 miles of track in a corporate restructuring is threatening a retirement plan covering about 230,000 present and former workers, according to a union official.
"This is devastation, to say the least," said Martin L. Artrip, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers local in Roanoke.
The retirement plan, whose membership is down from a high of 1.5 million people during World War II, could be further weakened by the railroad's retrenchment, Artrip said. "I don't know if it can last," he said. "We will have that many fewer people paying into it. At 58 years old, I'd like to know that when I hit 62 there is a plan."
Norfolk Southern's restructuring plan, which was announced last week, is in line with industry trends, according to Tom White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads in Washington.
"A number of railroads have done this over the past few years because of the incredible pressure of competition," White said. "It's a way to reduce costs in markets where it is almost impossible -- because of competition -- to increase rates."
The Norfolk-based railroad has said that the track and workforce cuts would cost the company $620 million, but would save $78 million in 1988 and between $115 million and $143 million a year by 1990.
The company has about 17,000 miles of track in 20 states and employs 32,600 people.
Norfolk Southern eliminated nearly 2,600 jobs last year through early retirements and employe buyouts.
"So far, all of our reductions have been through voluntary means, but I don't know about the future," said Rob Chapman, a company spokesman. "We're taking it a step at a time. As we sell off miles of track, we'll need fewer employes."
Artrip said the union may respond by attempting to organize short-line railroads. "A lot of this track is being sold to short-lines," he said. "The pay there is substandard, as are the working conditions."
Cutbacks by Norfolk Southern and other railroads are the result of a loosening in 1980 of federal regulation of the transportation industry, White said. "If it weren't for deregulation, we'd be worse off," he said