WASHINGTON (AP) — The conductors, mechanics and engineers who operate Amtrak's trains have been testing positive for drugs and alcohol more and more frequently over the last six years, a government watchdog said Friday. And Amtrak's management isn't doing enough to stop it.
Drug and alcohol use by Amtrak operating employees in safety-sensitive positions far exceeds the national average for the railroad industry, Amtrak's inspector general said in a report warning of serious safety risks.
Amtrak's mechanics and signal operators had the highest rate in 2011, testing positive for drugs four times as often as those working for other railroads. Although Amtrak also tests for alcohol, the larger problem in recent years has been with drugs — specifically cocaine and marijuana.
Seventeen workers in 2011 failed alcohol or drug tests intended to root out employees who are high or drunk on the job. But federal guidelines only require that Amtrak randomly test one-quarter of operations employees every year. Just one in 10 must be tested for alcohol.
Amtrak Inspector General Ted Alves, in his report, said Amtrak has failed to control drug and alcohol use by the more than 4,400 workers involved in operating trains. Amtrak's management has been unaware of the extent of the problem and hasn't addressed persistent concerns about its program to physically observe workers for signs they may be under the influence.
"These conditions increase the risk that a serious accident will occur that involves drugs or alcohol," Alves said in his report.
Amtrak said it agreed with the watchdog's recommendations, including that Amtrak should test a higher portion of its workers and expand its program for physical observation. The railroad plans to spend $1.5 million this year on its drug and alcohol program, and will boost its random drug test rate from 33 percent to 50 percent.
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