Operations at the Southern Pacific Transportation Co. intermodal yard in Los Angeles last week reportedly were hampered by sabotage performed by longshore workers before they were expelled from the facility.

The vandalism forced the railroad to conduct an entirely new inventory of nearly 4,000 containers, and set operations more than 36 hours behind schedule, according to officials interviewed at the site.The alleged sabotage was discovered when Southern Pacific rail employees took over work at the facility last Tuesday. The previous workers, members of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, were ordered off the job that day.

The major damage was to the computer system, according to SP officials. All the electronic data on the freight being processed through the yard had been wiped clean. A new list of the containers in the yard had to be compiled by hand.

In addition, more than 700 containers had been placed on wrong chassis, scrambling serial numbers and routing orders, resulting in confusion and lost freight. Southern Pacific had to form a "flip line" on one rail siding to sort out the containers.

Telephone directories also were reportedly removed from the customer service and billing offices at the facility.

Southern Pacific officials have argued that a general work slowdown, starting some six weeks ago when they first announced their intention to assume direct control af the intermodal facility and replace the longshoremen, prompted them to move up the takeover date.

"We were getting grid-locked in here," said Tom Shurstad, vice president of intermodal operations at the railroad.

Security guards, clearly visible to longshoremen who were standing outside the intermodal facility gates, remain posted at all entrances to the ICTF, including rail tunnels, to prevent further trouble.

Tom Curry, senior assistant vice president of intermodal operations at the SP, defended the show of force, saying, "Capitulation to intimidation is really poor policy."

The new workers at the site, members of one of the SP's rail unions - the Transportation Communications Union - are bused to work and provided food on site. Some of the 210-member work force is being housed by the railroad in a nearby hotel.

Workers at the site say the pickets outside the fence and the security measures don't bother them.

"I'm sad those people lost their jobs, but the fact is they had an opportunity to perform, and they didn't do it," said a computer operator at the facility, who asked not to be named.

"You had a few bad apples that got lazy," said a crane operator. "They weren't taking care of business, so now we're taking care of business."

The SP provided numbers they said supported that claim. Despite heavy rains, the new employees have been able to log more than 1,900 container lifts a day, SP officials said; the longshore workers averaged about 1,100 lifts a day, they said.

Outside the fence, laid-off longshore workers maintained their vigil throughout the weekend. They passed out leaflets and traded insults with replacement workers as their buses traveled in and out of the intermodal facility.