Trucking company is told to shut down George Transfer Inc. of Parkton is accused of 430 safety violations

January 18, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Charging that a Baltimore County trucking company failed to correct unsafe practices, federal highway officials yesterday ordered it to halt nearly all of its operations -- the largest trucker ever shut down for safety violations.

Parkton-based George Transfer Inc., which operates terminals in 24 states, was cited yesterday for more than 430 alleged violations of federal regulations, including charges that it required its drivers to falsify logs designed to keep exhausted truckers off the road.

Federal officials declared that operations at George Transfer, which employs more than 500 drivers nationwide, were "imminently hazardous." The officials said a recent investigation showed that the company broke a 1994 agreement to improve its safety practices.

"They didn't get better. In fact, they got worse," said John D. Steinhoff, regional director of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Motor Carriers. "Personally, I am disappointed. I was fully prepared to hold them up as a company that took corrective action on safety issues."

The agency yesterday ordered George Transfer to cease interstate operations -- which, agency officials said, amount to nearly all of its business. The company, which primarily hauls steel and aluminum from 40 terminals from the eastern seaboard to the Rocky Mountains, operates a terminal on North Point Boulevard in Sparrows Point.

George Transfer president Edward Gallagher, who in 1994 said he was "mystified" by charges against the company, yesterday said he would not comment on the shutdown order until he has consulted with company lawyers.

In 1994, the federal agency fined the company $391,500 because some of its drivers worked too many hours and then tried to hide that fact. Under federal law, truck drivers may drive no more than 10 hours without an eight-hour rest, or no more than 70 hours over eight days.

That year, the agency agreed to accept $256,000 of the fines and allowed the company to use the balance to implement a safety plan, but federal authorities said their recent investigation showed the plan was never implemented. The agency said yesterday that it will move to collect the $135,500 in previously unpaid fines, and that it had assessed $130,000 in new fines.

New allegations by the federal authorities include charges that the company required or permitted drivers to falsify their logs, and that two terminal managers knew of truckers driving without proper licenses. Also, $1,000 fines were levied against three truckers who drove after testing positive for cocaine or marijuana. Mr. Steinhoff said the firm fired those drivers.

Mr. Steinhoff said yesterday's action was the fifth round of sanctions filed against the company in three years. He said of the country's more than 340,000 trucking firms, about two dozen a year are shut down for safety violations.

He said George Transfer trucks were involved in 18 accidents with injuries or significant property damage in the past year, a figure that placed the company in the "not satisfactory" category.

If the company does not abide by the shutdown order, the federal highway agency will seek a cease-and-desist order in federal court, Mr. Steinhoff said. Authorities said the company will not be allowed to resume operations until it eliminates unsafe practices.

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