Consolidated Rail Corp.'s board of directors pulled slightly on the reins of Chairman L. Stanley Crane Wednesday after Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole complained about some of Crane's tactics in opposing the department's plans to sell Conrail.
The board meeting in Philadelphia was "full of frank exchanges," and served to clarify the board-chairman relationship as the Reagan administration closes in on its goal of denationalizing the northeastern freight railroad, according to several sources.
The sources said that, among other things:
* Crane agreed to seek an amiable dissolution of Conrail's employment of Lyn Nofziger as a Washington representative. Nofziger is a long-time adviser to President Reagan and his hiring was seen by the Transportation Department as an attempt to short-circuit the administration's sales effort.
* Crane was reminded that the board must be consulted before any agreements can be reached with Conrail's many labor unions about such issues as representation on the board or tying a Conrail sale to certain provisions in the labor contracts. Crane is free to continue negotiations on work rules, wages and benefits; he is reported to have made several generous offers to labor for inclusion in a new Conrail, which exceed his authority.
* The board was told that Robert H. Platt, Conrail's executive vice president for finance and administration, will be retiring soon. Platt has been a controversial figure with some board members and has been seen as the point man for Crane in opposing Dole's preferred method of selling Conrail.
At the same time, the board's members agreed to listen to five different purchase proposals -- including Crane's -- when they meet in Washington Tuesday.
Other proposals will be presented by representatives for Conrail's 35,000 employes, who are negotiating through the Railway Labor Executives Association, and by three bidders chosen as finalists by Dole: the Norfolk Southern Corp., the Alleghany Corp. and a group of investors headed by J. W. (Bill) Marriott Jr. The board itself has reserved the right to make its own offer if it finds other offers unacceptable.
Crane has turned Conrail from a federal ward into a money maker and is highly regarded as a railroad executive. He has stated through his representatives that he believes it to be in the best interests of Conrail's employes and shippers that Conrail be sold to the public, thus permitting Conrail's management to continue on course without distraction.
A public offering takes time, however, and Crane has proposed pledging Conrail assets as security to obtain a "bridge loan" to buy the government's interest. That would amount to a leveraged buyout, Transportation Department officials have said, something they do not wish to permit because it theoretically increases the risk that the government would have to bail out Conrail in the event of hard times.
Crane has been highly successful in making his case with three key Pennsylvania Republicans -- Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh and Sens. Arlen Specter and John Heinz -- as well as with many members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be the starting point for the legislation needed to sell Conrail.
Crane, however, has said little publicly and has sent Platt to testify at recent hearings in favor of the "Conrail management" position.
Dole, on the other hand, has been conducting her own lobbying effort both on Capitol Hill and with members of the Conrail board chosen by the Transportation Department.
Conrail officials declined comment yesterday.