STAFF OF CALIF. UTILITIES COMMISSION PUSHES FOR SOUTHERN PACIFIC SAFETY PLAN

STAFF OF CALIF. UTILITIES COMMISSION PUSHES FOR SOUTHERN PACIFIC SAFETY PLAN

Staff investigators at the California Public Utilities Commission want Southern Pacific Transportation Co. to have a safety plan that goes well beyond minimum state and federal railroad safety requirements.

The staff made its recommendation to the commission after completing a probe of two 1991 accidents involving the Southern Pacific.The commission will review the staff's findings and recommendations over the next few months. The railroad will have an opportunity to rebut the staff's conclusions before the commission decides whether or not to put the recommendations into effect.

"We think some aspects have to be analyzed," said Mike Furtney, a Southern Pacific spokesman.

Last July there were two accidents on SP lines involving toxic chemical spills. One occurred near Dunsmuir, Calif., the other near Seacliff, Calif. In addition to investigating the accidents, the commission is conducting an overall review of railroad operations and regulations in California.

"They are two different things," explained Bill Well, chief of the rail safety branch at the commission. "One is in response to our concern about the two accidents and the other is in response to legislation demanding a review of all rail safety in California."

In the Dunsmuir accident, a tankcar derailed and spilled nearly 19,000 gallons of metam sodium, a weed killer, into the Sacramento River, killing thousands of fish and causing health problems for nearby residents.

At Seacliff, 440 gallons of aqueous hydrazine, a corrosive, spilled onto a major Los Angeles basin thoroughfare after an SP derailment. The road was

closed to traffic for five days.

Commission staff said the Dunsmuir derailment was caused by ''stringlining," where a car is pulled off the tracks because of an awkward combination of speed and weights on the train. The Seacliff accident was caused by a bad wheel bearing.

The staff made an overall recommendation that SP implement "a system safety plan" to identify and eliminate all potential safety problems on the railroad.

"The plan should reduce risks beyond what can be done simply by meeting minimum state and federal regulatory standards," the commission staff report said.

The staff suggested a number of track operation changes at Dunsmuir to prevent stringlining. It also suggested beefing up hazard material regulations and notice requirements for railroad operations in the state.