(Washington, DC – September 27, 2012)
A blistering analysis of how bad the use of illegal drugs and alcohol is by on-duty Amtrak employees in safety-sensitive positions was released Thursday by the passenger carrier’s own Office of Inspector General.
According to the audit performed under the supervision of Amtrak Inspector General Ted Alves, employees operating, maintaining and directing Amtrak trains were failing drug and alcohol tests by an embarrassing 51% higher rate than their counterparts in freight and non-Amtrak passenger operations nationwide. Amtrak employees in the mechanical and signal departments failed tests for alcohol and illegal substances four times as often as the same classes of employees in the rail industry in general.
The tests, mandated after a tragic collision between a Conrail freight train and an Amtrak passenger train that resulted in 16 deaths and non-fatal injuries to 147 others after the Conrail locomotive engineer was found to be under the influence of marijuana after he sped through three “stop” signals prior to the collision in Chase, MD in 1987, require that railroad officials physically observe each employee in safety-sensitive positions for symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse an average of once every three months. Amtrak is required to perform random drug tests on at least 25% of its employees in safety-sensitive positions and alcohol tests on at least 10% of its safety-sensitive workers annually.
However, the Inspector General’s report implies that Amtrak officials have “looked the other way” in their attitude toward compliance with the regulations.
“Amtrak’s current senior management’s lack of knowledge about the extent of drug and alcohol use, the lack of engagement in the program, and the limited response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s concerns about its physical observations raise serious questions about Amtrak’s commitment to controlling drug and alcohol use,” said Alves’ report which, although concentrating upon 2011’s performance, was drawing observations on conditions since 2006. Amtrak ridership set new records in 2011, and has steadily increased during eight of the past nine years.
Amtrak has 4,400 employees in the “safety-sensitive” category, which includes locomotive engineers, conductors, train dispatchers, signal maintainers and mechanics.
Among the duties of Amtrak’s Inspector General’s Office is the review of security and safety policies in the agency’s programs and operations.