- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2012

Amtrak’s internal watchdog agency is criticizing the rail service’s management for not doing enough to uncover drug and alcohol abuse among “safety sensitive” employees such as engineers and conductors.

While Amtrak plans to spend about $1.5 million on a drug and alcohol program this year, the passenger rail service’s inspector general said in a new report that Amtrak employees test positive for drugs and alcohol more frequently than employees across the rest of the rail industry.

With positive tests trending upward since 2006, most employees caught are testing positive for marijuana or cocaine, according to the report issued late last week.

In 2011, Amtrak reported 17 positive employee tests for drugs or alcohol, resulting in a rate about 51-percent higher than the industry average and Amtrak’s worst rate since 2007.

Based on the results, if all of the 4,454 so called “hours of service employees” in safety sensitive positions, including engineers, conductors and dispatchers, were tested, as few as 21 and as many as 65 workers would have tested positive for drugs, the report said.

The report also found that until the inspector general’s inquiry, Amtrak management wasn’t aware of the extent of drug and alcohol use by employees.

Amtrak’s senior management hasn’t “demonstrated that controlling drugs and alcohol is a clear priority at Amtrak, thereby making it difficult to manage the risk that drug and alcohol use poses to its employees, passengers and the public,” the report said.

Amtrak’s inspector general also called on the rail service to increase the rate of random employee testing, among other recommendations.

Steve Kulm, an Amtrak spokesman, said senior management agreed.

Amtrak runs a safe railroad today and we are committed to making further safety improvements for passengers and employees,” Mr. Kulm wrote in an e-mail.

“We agree with the inspector general’s recommendations and will actively work to implement them.”