ATLANTA, Oct. 18, 2012 — Drug and alcohol use among Amtrak employees “has been generally trending upward since 2006,” an alarming trend that increases the likelihood of a serious wreck, the railroad’s inspector general warned in a recently released report.
With 17 positive tests for drugs or alcohol in 2011, Amtrak’s combined positive test rate was roughly 51 percent higher than the industry average, its worst year since 2007, according to the report. The increase in drug use poses a risk to not only Amtrak employees, but also to the traveling public, the inspector general warns.
The new report was released just before the railroad set a new annual ridership record, carrying more than 31.2 million passengers during Fiscal Year 2012. At the same time, Amtrak, which relies on taxpayer dollars for operations, also reported a 6.8 percent increase in ticket revenue for the year, collecting more than $2 billion.
“Amtrak is not exercising due diligence to control the use of drugs and alcohol by these employees,” the IG noted in the report. “Until we presented Amtrak’s key senior management with our preliminary results, they were unaware of the extent of drug and alcohol use by these employees.”
The report also indicated Amtrak’s senior management is “not actively engaged in the program, nor have they demonstrated that controlling drugs and alcohol is a clear priority at Amtrak.” That makes it “difficult to manage the risk that drug and alcohol use poses to its employees, passengers, and the public.”
Amtrak spent about $1.5 million during Fiscal Year 2012 on randomly drug testing its more than 4,400 Hours of Service (HOS) employees, which include signal operators and locomotive engineers. The railroad currently tests about 25 percent of its HOS employees for drugs and 10 percent for alcohol.
A majority of positive tests returned since 2006 were for drugs, mainly marijuana and cocaine, according to the report.
In the report, Amtrak management indicated it will follow the IG’s recommendation to increase the level of annual drug tests and also regularly review test results and compare against industry averages.
Drug testing for railroads was implemented following a deadly Amtrak-Conrail wreck in 1987 that left 16 people dead and injured 147 more.
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