Friday, November 19, 2004

Senators Request Study of Rail Safety in Whittier Area
By Caitlin Liu - Times Staff Writer

Concerned about two major derailments in Los Angeles County within 1 1/2 years, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer on Thursday asked the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct a comprehensive analysis of train safety in the greater Whittier area.

In June 2003, a runaway Union Pacific train derailed in Commerce, injuring 13 people and destroying homes.

Last month, a Union Pacific train lurched off its tracks near Whittier and pitched cargo containers into backyards, spilling thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and causing the evacuation of 200 people.

In a letter to Betty Monro, the acting administrator of the federal agency in charge of rail safety, the senators requested an inspection team to examine service hours, grade crossings, track signals and maintenance.

"We would also ask that you review whether past defects or violations have been corrected in a timely matter," the senators wrote.

The October incident is already under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and state authorities.

"We're doing increased inspections in Los Angeles County already" on Union Pacific tracks, said Steven Kulm, spokesman for the federal rail agency.

The senators were inspired in part by a railroad administration investigation earlier this year into a string of Union Pacific derailments and accidents near San Antonio, including one in which toxic fumes from a punctured rail car killed three people.

The subsequent federal review led to a safety compliance agreement with Union Pacific that included retraining all rail-testing managers, a monthly plan to correct problems and additional federal inspectors, Kulm said in a statement.

Kathryn Blackwell, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific, said the railroad is "cooperating fully with the agreement" and "working hard to ensure that it's a success."

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