File Under “T” For “Troubling”: Amtrak Workers Are Failing Drug Tests More Often

You know how it’s really important to trust the people in charge of operating heavey machinery/vehicles that you’re riding in? Well that trust might be a little tiny bit shaken when you hear that Amtrak workers — conductors, mechanics and engineers and the like — have been failing drug and alcohol tests more frequently in the last six years. And it seems not much is being done about it, says a new report.

The Associated Press cites a report by Amtrak’s inspector general that says the company’s operating employees who are in responsible for keeping passengers safe have been failing such tests at a rate that is way over what the national average is for the railroad industry. That poses serious safety risks, the inspector general notes. Yup.

From the AP:

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.

So how much of a “Yikes” moment is this? Apparently in 2011 there were 17 workers who failed alcohol or drug tests that were given to try and find out who’s boozing and drugging on the job. Federal guidelines say that Amtrak only has to randomly test a quarter of its operations employees each year, however, and only one in 10 must be tested for alcohol under those rules.

Amtrak Inspector General Ted Alves says the company isn’t doing a great job at controlling all this drug and alcohol use among its more than 4,400 workers involved in driving trains around the country. Management didn’t even know how bad the problem was so it hasn’t done much about monitoring those workers, says the report.

“These conditions increase the risk that a serious accident will occur that involves drugs or alcohol,” Alves said.

Amtrak is onboard with the recommendations, including the suggestion that it should be testing more of its workers and watch them more to see if they can tell if they’re using or boozing. It’s going to spend $1.5 million to improve its drug and alcohol program as a result.

“Amtrak runs a safe railroad today,” said Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm. “We are committed to making further safety improvements for passengers and employees.”

Failing a test doesn’t mean you automatically lose your job, according to Amtrak policy. If a second test is failed within the same 10 years, the worker has to be removed from service. Six workers have lost their jobs since 2006 as a result.

Amtrak Workers Failing Drug Tests More Often [Associated Press]