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A growing number of Amtrak employees have been testing positive for drugs and alcohol, increasing the risk of a serious railroad accident, according to a new report.
The report from Amtrak Inspector Ted Alves states that drug and alcohol use by conductors, mechanics and engineers who operate the trains greatly exceeds the national average for the railroad industry. Amtrak’s signal operators and mechanics tested positive for drugs four times as frequently as those working for other railroads, the Associated Press reports. Cocaine and marijuana are the most frequently used drugs.
Last year, 17 workers failed drug or alcohol tests. According to federal guidelines, Amtrak is required to randomly test one-quarter of operations employees annually, while one in 10 must be tested for alcohol use.
“Amtrak is not exercising due diligence in order to control the use of drugs and alcohol by HOS [hours-of-service] employees in safety-sensitive positions,” the report states. “Until we presented Amtrak’s senior management with our preliminary results, they were unaware of the extent of drug and alcohol use by these employees. Further, senior management is not actively engaged in the program, nor have they demonstrated that controlling drugs and alcohol is a clear priority at Amtrak.”
The report recommends that Amtrak test a larger percentage of its workers, and expand its program for physical observation. The railroad has said it agrees with these proposals, the article notes. It plans to increase its random drug test rate from 33 percent to 50 percent.
Amtrak employees who fail a drug or alcohol test are not automatically dismissed. They may have the opportunity to seek treatment. They are removed from service if they fail a second test within a 10-year period. Since 2006, six workers have resigned, retired or been terminated under these circumstances.