Although Allegany County never replaced its heavy industries, it has rebounded in other ways. Bolstered by an influx of state and federal money, it has has lured new telecommunications, banking and light manufacturing jobs. With the opening of Interstate 68 four years ago, tourism has boomed; the $52 million Rocky Gap State Park will open next year.
The unemployment rate in Allegany County has dropped from 13.4 percent in 1992 to just over 7 percent today.
But the changes have come at a price.
"What you've brought in is a lot of diversification that is not so dependent on one industry," said Ed Mason, owner of Mason's family restaurant. "That's good and bad. These jobs don't have wages like CSX's."
Indeed, CSX workers earn considerably more than most other workers -- an average weekly wage of $650 compared with a county average of $424.
Most current CSX workers were hired right out of high school. And with manufacturing jobs plentiful, the railroad was the last choice for many. It was, they say, notorious for layoffs and on-call work. And the railroad was far more dangerous.
Today, those workers are in their late 40s and 50s. They have witnessed changes in the railroad industry -- consolidations, improved technology and efficiencies -- that have dramatically reduced their work force.
When they started working, Cumberland was still home to two major railroads: the Baltimore & Ohio and the Western Maryland. The Chesapeake and Ohio absorbed the B&O in 1962, the Western Maryland in 1967, and formed the Chessie System in 1973. Nine years later Chessie merged with Seaboard Coast Line to form CSX.
Trains that required three locomotives are today pulled by single, powerful engines. Two-man crews now operate trains once manned by five. Better-built locomotives last longer and require fewer repairs. Much of the heavy repair work at Cumberland has been farmed out. In addition, competition from the trucking industry has eroded the amount of freight -- and jobs -- in the rail industry.
In Cumberland, the railroad jobs have dwindled from 3,000 in its heyday to about 1,000 today. Except for engineers, the railroad has not hired since 1989 in Cumberland.
"It's always been in turmoil there's always been fear," said Bill Shepherd, a 42-yearold conductor and father of three who has worked for the railroad since 1974.
In the past decade, CSX has not only eliminated jobs, but it also has abandoned many of the rail spurs in Western Maryland that served smaller shippers. Today, coal operators say, CSX is talking about abandoning its service on the George's Creek tracks that serve the surface mine industry.
"The railroad's a mixed blessing around here," said Bloss, the CSX employee. "But everything I have I owe to the railroad."
A good living
Not only has CSX provided a good living for hundreds of workers such as Bloss, but it has financed a number of civic projects and provided land for both the Western Maryland Railroad, a tourist train that runs between Cumberland and Frostburg, and for the C&O Canal Scenic Highway.
"They've been an excellent corporate citizen in the Cumberland area," Athey said. "We just want to see them stay."
But officials and workers alike know that mergers are designed to create efficiencies and cut costs. It is a fact that has fueled an inherent mistrust.
"They tell us it looks good for Cumberland, but Conrail is telling people in the shops at Enola, Pa. the same thing," Hedrick said. "We trust CSX like nothing. They're a large corporation, and they'll do what they have to do to make the almighty dollar. If it's getting rid of Cumberland, that's what they'll do."
Yet, CSX terminal manager J. J. O'Brien says most workers believe Cumberland will survive. "I think people feel there's going to be something here," he said. "The question is, how much. At this point, no one can answer that."
Pub Date: 2/23/97