NEW YORK STATE IS ATTEMPTING to bring an entirely new kind of regulation to railroads.

Legislation signed recently by Gov. Mario Cuomo requires railroads with freight operations in the state that are valued at more than $10 million a year to provide sanitary drinking water and private toilet facilities on board locomotives. The problem, it seems, isn't that existing facilities haven't been private or sanitary. The problem is that facilities don't exist.According to one report, the only reason for such an oversight in engineering is that the Occupational Safety and Health Act has no jurisdiction over moving equipment on railroads. Now New York State, whose high standard of cleanliness has earned it national fame, is seeking to rein in the railroads in the same way that New York City residents curb their dogs.

What a relief. Never mind that locomotives have been running for well over 100 years without toilets. Never mind that in most locomotive cabs there's scant room to sit behind the controls, much less anywhere else. Never mind that New York is a state where tens of thousands of buses and subways ride the roads and rails without any such amenities. The state has to start somewhere. Who knows? If this experiment with the rails works out, it might someday make a pass at the parks or even city streets.

Where will New York's passion for cleanliness end? And why does it seem to be singling out rail freight carriers on an issue of such minuscule public impact? Certainly, scores of cargo aircraft fly into and out of New York every day. Are their accommodations less important than those of railroads?

It's hard to imagine that the new regulations will ever amount to more than a drop in the bucket in the overall health and safety of the industrial work place. Meanwhile, they will inconvenience rail carriers. Certainly, Gov. Cuomo could find more pressing problems that deserve the state's attention.

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