Amtrak Employees Under the Influence?


Train travel should be safe, but a new study shows that employees of the nation’s biggest railroad are testing positive for drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate.

We all know not to drink and get behind the wheel of a car, right? But sometimes taking public transit can put you in the hands of someone who is impaired as well. A recent report shows that conductors, mechanics and engineers who operate Amtrak’s trains have been testing positive for drugs and alcohol more frequently over the last six years. So when you think you’re playing it safe by letting someone else do the driving, you may not be.

“Drug and alcohol use by Amtrak operating employees far exceeds the national average for the railroad industry,” Amtrak’s inspector general said in a report warning of serious safety risks. In 2011, 17 workers failed alcohol or drug tests intended to root out employees who are high or drunk on the job. That’s a start, but federal guidelines stipulate that just one in 10 must be tested for alcohol, equaling random testing being done on roughly one-quarter of operations employees each year.

“These conditions increase the risk that a serious accident will occur that involves drugs or alcohol,” Amtrak Inspector General Ted Alves said in his report. He added that Amtrak has failed to control drug and alcohol use by the more than 4,400 workers involved in operating trains.

While management may have been unaware of the extent of the problem, the report suggests it hasn’t addressed persistent concerns about its program to physically observe workers for signs they may be under the influence.

In addition to alcohol, cocaine and marijuana are showing up in positive test results as well. The study found that Amtrak’s mechanics and signal operators had the highest rate of intoxication in 2011, testing positive for drugs four times as often as those working for other railroads.

Railroads have been required to control drug and alcohol use by employees since a 1987 train accident in Chase, MD, that killed 16 people and injured 147. The engineer for a now-defunct railroad had sped through three signals, causing his train to collide with an Amtrak train. An investigation found that the engineer had been under the influence of marijuana.

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