The federal government is leveling $734,900 in fines against the Guilford rail system for safety violations over a four-year period, the Federal Railroad Administration said yesterday.

The agency told Guilford Transportation Industries, the parent company of the New England regional railroad, that it is asking the Justice Department to file suit to collect the fines after a negotiated settlement failed to materialize.

The civil penalties stem from a wide range of alleged safety violations from 1984 through 1987, including handling of equipment, condition of locomotives and freight cars, track defects and record-keeping on work hours and operating procedures, the FRA said.

John H. Riley, the federal railroad administrator, chastised Guilford in a letter to the company for not responding to a negotiated settlement offer that called for payment of $229,725 in fines. "This is the first time FRA has been compelled to sue a railroad on an entire group of {safety violation} cases," Riley wrote David Fink, president of Guilford Transportation Industries.

Guilford spokesman Colin Pease said, "We have always been a very strong critic of the administration of the rail safety program and we think it's important that these issues be brought before a federal judge."