Rail Company Fined Over Seacliff Spill

Southern Pacific Transportation Co. has been fined $4,000 for a delay in reporting a 1991 toxic spill at Seacliff and for failing to have on hand written procedures for handling the chemical that leaked.

The company was also ordered to pay $488,000 in penalties in connection with a separate incident in July, 1991, when a derailment leaked 14,000 gallons of herbicide into the Sacramento River.

The fines were issued this week by the California Public Utilities Commission after an investigation into both accidents. The company has 30 days to pay the state or file an appeal.

Southern Pacific spokesman Mike Furtney said the company has not yet decided whether to appeal.

"That's a decision the lawyers will have to make after they've received the documentation from the (Public Utilities Commission)," he said.

The wreck at Seacliff occurred July 28, 1991, when an axle bearing failed, causing a train to jump the tracks and spill steel drums full of aqueous hydrazine. The toxic chemical is a component of jet fuel and is used in manufacturing.

The commission fined the company $2,000 for an hour and 40 minute delay in notifying the state Office of Emergency Services and $2,000 for failing to carry guidelines for handling hydrazine in an emergency.

Furtney questioned the fine for the reporting delay, saying a county fire station was notified of the spill almost immediately. "We're only suggesting that the fines are curious in the sense that they make no comment about the way in which the immediate response was made by literally hundreds of Southern Pacific and, of course, public agency people," he said.

For cleanup of the Seacliff spill, Southern Pacific has paid Ventura County nearly $579,000 for work done by the Fire Department, Sheriff's Department, district attorney's office and the environmental health division.

The company also has paid 22 claims to Seacliff residents and rejected 338 other claims, most from drivers forced to take lengthy detours during the five days the Ventura Freeway was shut down for cleanup.

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