Chris, I dunno exactly how this program works at the NS, but a guy who I worked with on the UP was a former Supt. on the NS, and he said the program was a mirror image of the ones the UP and the BNSF had. With that in mind, let me take a stab at your question but remember that not all RR's and not all terminals within a RR are the same. You can always find exceptions to the rule...but here are the rules as I saw them...
1. Your quality of life will depend on your immediate managers. 90% of the time they were beaten into the ground, so you will be as well. By that I mean plan on working random and lengthy hours. They treat you pretty good at the begining, but once they turn you loose an you mark up as a TM or ATM, you will probably be working 12 hours a day, 4-6 days a week. Days off can vary, but dont plan on having weekends off unless your managers rotate. Thats because most terminals have only 3-4 ATMs, and 24 hour coverage + vacation coverage = long hours for the new guy. This can vary from terminal to terminal; some places only have a few trains a day, and are not 24 hour operations. I hired out with a guy who got a sweet gig in the backwaters of Iowa, and his terminal essentially closes down every night. But if you are anywhere on a mainline, plan on a 24 hour day, 12 of which will be yours. A safe bet is 60 hours a week at a minimum, a lot more if anything goes in the dirt or your terminal is short-staffed.
2. I dont know, but from what I have heard, absolutely not. NS has a reputation amongst the railroads of being the most militaristic especially when it comes to safety compliance. They bust a lot of balls to be #1 in the safety rankings, and dont get yours in the vice. That comes straight from a guy I knew who was a manager on the NS. Things might be different depending on your local DTM, but you never know. My DTM was a really laid back guy, and he gave our TMs a lot of leeway in certian things. The division Supt was one of the coolest guys I have ever worked for as well, but if you did something on your own and the General Supt. found out about it, there was hell to pay. So it depends on who is who and where they are in the food chain. Overall, RRs are not 1 big company, but a collection of small fiefdoms run by their own kings (general supts.) So get a feel for your area before you look to take a stand on anything. That goes completely against any kind of modern managment philosophy, but beware your surroundings for your own sake. Corporate will tell you all kinds of forward-leaning things....it is baloney, the kings rule the land, not the guys in the ivory tower.
3. Not a chance. I was picked up by the terminal I trained in, and it was made very clear to me that I would not be there for much more than 18 to 24 months. If you go in a program like this, you have no seniorty to fall back on. The TMs with a craft under their belt can sit on thier jobs as long as they want, guys like you go when you are told to go or you are out (they arnt kidding about this, trust me!).
4. Doubtful. We had a pool vehicle that we all shared. Some of the guys I hired out with got their own rides, but it all depends on the local circumstances. If you have a lot of territory to cover, maybe. If you are just in a terminal and only responsible for yard limits to yard limits, I wouldnt count on it.
5. You get to see a lot of things that guys in TE&Y can go their entire career without seeing. You will get to meet some pretty powerful dudes in the business, get to see a lot of different places, and they will give you a lot of info that they dont give someone with a union card. You will also get to see the operations from a little bit of a higher stance and watching a railroad tick is a real kick sometimes. You will definately have your finger on the pulse of the place and that is rewarding in itself. The opportunities are also nearly endless right now, if you want to be a VP of a huge company that makes billions, here is your ticket. Keep your head down, do what you are told, and make an impression you could probably get into a job where you can do some good. My boss did this, and although he had to do some things I dont think he was very proud of to get there, he made up for a lot of it once it was his call to make. Course, there is always a bigger fish in the pond out there (remeber who is king!)and you have to watch out for him as well.
I'm not going to harp on you about the bad stuff too much since it might be the right thing for you man. There was a lot of things about my time as a TM that I enjoyed to no end and I hope you find them as well.
Good luck man, PM if you have any questions!