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Amtrak Employees Testing Positive For Drug And Alcohol Use More Often

Drug and alcohol use by Amtrak employees is on the rise, according to a recent study by a government-appointed inspector. In his report, Inspector General Ted Alves said that in 2011, Amtrak mechanics and signal operators failed drug tests four times more often than workers for other railroads.  Amtrak also tests for alcohol but the larger problem is increasing drug use, especially cocaine and marijuana.

In 2011, seventeen workers failed random workplace drug test.   But according to federal guidelines, Amtrak can only test one-quarter of its operating employees per year, so the real number is greater.

Amtrak’s management has remained largely unaware of the problem and had not concerns about their current program which involves physically observing employees for signs of substance abuse.  They accept the report’s findings and agree with its recommendations.  These include expanding the testing program to include more workers and also increasing the physical observation of workers.  Amtrak plans to spend $1.5 million on its drug and alcohol detection program this year.  It will expand the random drug testing rate from 33% of employees to 50%.

The current policy of Amtrak is that a single failed test doesn’t automatically lead to an employee’s dismissal.  They might have the opportunity to seek help and treatment through Amtrak.  But if an employee fails a drug or alcohol test twice in ten years, he must be dismissed.  That has happened six times since 2006.

Railroads are required by law to monitor and control drug and alcohol use among their employees.  This was the result of a 1987 accident in Chase, Maryland which killed 16 people and injured 147.  In that accident it was the engineer of another, now-defunct railroad, that ran three lights and caused his train to collide with the Amtrak's train.  It was determined later that the he was under the influence of marijuana.