The Post {editorial, Feb. 17} jumped to the wrong conclusion in its interpretation of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision barring mandatory drug testing of railway employees following a train accident.

The editorial was false and inflammatory in stating that the court's decision means such train engineers as Ricky Gates "could walk away from the scene, and unless he were reeling drunk or in a drug-induced stupor, no test would be allowed and no individual would have to bear the responsibility for the accident."

Mr. Gates was responsible for ignoring the railway signals telling him to stop the train. That simple act made him responsible for the tragic accident that resulted. This would have been the case even if drug tests showed no use of marijuana. I hope that transportation employees entrusted with the lives of the public are not absolved of responsibility for following safety procedures and regulations just because they cannot be tested for drugs, as The Post implies.

The appeals court stated that a railway accident is not sufficient justification to warrant drug and alcohol testing of the entire train crew. That is because in our society, the court said, we do not conduct dragnet searches regularly in hope of finding a single guilty individual, and because a positive urine test does not itself indicate a person is impaired. A urine test, even when accurate, can turn up positive days, even weeks, after drug use has occurred.

However, the court also stated that the railway can test when there is a reasonable belief of drug use by an individual. If a train driver ignores a red light and barrels his train into another, I'd say the railway would have a good chance to claim reasonable belief of drug or alcohol use, and could therefore test. Yes, I know I'm not a judge. But neither is The Post.

We are concerned for the safety of the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who ride the rails each year. But just as federal employees should not have to submit to mandatory drug testing, innocent railway personnel should not be subjected to drug tests because they had the misfortune to be in, but not responsible for, a rail accident. Let's not allow one terrible train incident to serve as the basis for the erosion of all of our rights.

ROBERT M. TOBIAS

National President

National Treasury Employees Union

Washington