Feds Cite Lax Safety Culture in Amtrak Crash That Killed 2 Workers on Tracks

Crash in Delaware County left 2 Amtrak workers dead

The engineer of an Amtrak train that slammed into a backhoe near Philadelphia last April, killing two workers, tested positive for marijuana after the crash, according to investigative documents released Thursday that pointed to a lax safety culture at the railroad. 

Investigators found that the maintenance crew had failed to follow safety procedures designed to keep workers safe and that Amtrak management was wrong to let the work go on without a detailed plan identifying hazards and ways to mitigate them. 

Amtrak's assertions that the work was part of an ongoing, routine maintenance project that didn't require a detailed plan "are simply a post-accident circling of the wagons to deny supervisory or management involvement in the review of a project gone bad," investigators wrote. [[411918296, C]]

The documents don't come to any official conclusions on the cause of the crash but offer a glimpse into what investigators have learned thus far. 

The train's engineer, 47-year-old Alexander Hunter, told investigators that he knew of maintenance work being done in the area but wasn't given any warnings about equipment being on the same track as his train. 

Hunter blew the train's horn and hit the brakes once he saw equipment on an adjacent track and then on his own track, about five seconds before impact. [[411898535, C]]

The train slowed from 106 mph to 100 mph at impact and only came to a complete stop about a mile down the track. The lead engine of the train was derailed. 

The train was heading from New York to Savannah, Georgia, when it struck the backhoe in Chester, about 15 miles outside of Philadelphia. 

Backhoe operator Joseph Carter Jr., 61, and supervisor Peter Adamovich, 59, were killed and 40 train passengers were hurt. Hunter, also injured, was hospitalized and given morphine for his pain, which also showed up in drug testing. 

Hunter's actions initially drew praise. 

A union safety task force member commended him during an interview with investigators two days after the crash, and said he had done "a great job." 

Hunter told investigators he felt alert and rested the morning of the crash. He didn't mention drug use. It's unclear if he gave another interview once the drug test results came back. 

Hunter is no longer employed by Amtrak, a spokeswoman said Thursday. No amount of marijuana use by an engineer is acceptable, she said. 

The union representing Hunter, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said it could not comment while the crash investigation is still open.

The agency released this statement about drug use in the workplace:

"Drug use in the workplace at Amtrak is unacceptable and is not tolerated. The public places a trust in us to provide safe and reliable transportation. Safety is our highest priority – for our passengers and our employees – and we are committed to operating our nationwide network of services safely, effectively and efficiently.   

"Amtrak tests our employees at twice the rate of federal guidelines. We also offer our employees supportive resources such as Amtrak’s Employee Assistance Program and Operation Red Block, a peer intervention program.  

"While we have a comprehensive drug testing program, we are working to make it better. One employee testing positive for drugs or alcohol is too many. We have reviewed our program and have taken proactive measures to make even stronger protocols including additional employee education, enhanced rehabilitation and more clearly defined consequences for violations.

"We are proud of the dedicated, professional men and women that are part of the Amtrak workforce, operating our nationwide network of trains 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are committed to getting better.

"Amtrak will continue to work closely with the Department of Transportation, the NTSB, and our union partners to strengthen our drug and alcohol testing program. We resolve to explore every program and resource available toward our goal of an every shift, every day and every week, month and year drug-free workforce and workplace."

Associated Press writer Maryclaire Dale contributed to this report.

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