Amtrak Engineer's Post-Accident Drug Test Showed Marijuana, Opioids

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In the early morning of April 3, 2016, in clear weather conditions, an Amtrak locomotive engineered by 47-year-old Alex Hunter slammed into a backhoe on the tracks, killing two veteran Amtrak employees. There were 341 passengers and 7 crew-members aboard Train 89 traveling from New York City to Savannah. Among the passengers, 35 were transported to local hospitals in Chester, PA with non-life-threatening injuries.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report released the other week, Train 89 was traveling at 106 mph — within the track speed of 110 mph — but by the time Hunter applied the emergency brake, and laid on his whistle six seconds prior to the crash, it was on a collision course with the backhoe and the two Amtrak workers operating it. Hunter then laid flat on the floor of his locomotive as it lifted off the tracks. Miraculously, none of the passenger cars came off the track.

In accordance with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, all members of the Amtrak crew provided blood and urine specimens for post-accident toxicological testing. Hunter's samples returned positive results for cannabinoids and opioids, according to the NTSB report.

NTSB post-accident interviews with an Amtrak foreman indicated that a miscommunication between the night and day foremen resulted in Train 89's failure to take note of the backhoe stationed on Track 3 where the accident occurred.

Months after the fatal Philadelphia train crash last year, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) finalized a proposal to require all maintenance-of-way workers to undergo the same random and post-incident drug and alcohol testing as train crew members.

The Washington Post reported in September 2016 that the number of railroad workers involved in accidents who tested positive for drug use had dramatically increased in 2016, with nearly 8 percent of workers involved in rail accidents were positive for drug use, including marijuana and various other illegal and impairing effect drugs. The Post noted that the number of post-accident drug-positives was the highest since the FRA began keeping records in 1987.

Note from the Editor: This deadly crash is a stark reminder to all regulated and non-regulated employers how important it is to stand firm against marijuana in your workplace. Click below to access a free recording of Tommy Eden's recent webinar presentation:

HR Solutions to Marijuana in Workplace Webinar Download

Drug Testing

Tommy Eden

Posted By: Tommy Eden

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA. He is a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law, and drafts state compliant drug-free workplace programs for employers in all 50 states. You can read more of Tommy's blogs at www.alabamaatwork.com, and can reach him directly at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901.

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