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Friday, January 27, 2017

Amtrak Engineer in Crash Tested Positive for Marijuana, Opioids, Says NTSB

By Thomas Eden

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 seven 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 an NTSB report released yesterday, 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's foremen 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.

Common Sense Counsel: 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 of 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.

This deadly crash is a stark reminder to all regulated and non-regulated employers that it is important to learn how you can Stand Firm Again Marijuana in your workplace.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA offices, leads Constangy’s Workplace Drug & Alcohol Testing Services and drafts drug-free workplace polices in all 50 states for DOT and non-DOT employers. Tommy can be contacted at or 334-246-2901.