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By Heather Caygle
The number of Amtrak employees testing positive for drugs and alcohol has increased since 2006 and continues to exceed the industry average, according to a Sept. 27 report issued by the railroad's inspector general.
Amtrak is one of 38 large railroads required to institute random drug and alcohol testing for employees working in safety-sensitive areas, including conductors, train dispatchers, and signal operators. Since 2007, the number of positive drug and alcohol tests at the passenger rail company has exceeded the industry rate.
In 2011, the positive test rate at Amtrak was more than 50 percent above the industry average, with 17 positive drug and alcohol tests. The majority of positive tests were due to marijuana and cocaine use.
The inspector general reprimanded Amtrak, saying the rail company was not “exercising due diligence” to control drug and alcohol use among employees. Amtrak senior management has not made controlling the problem a clear priority, thereby “making it difficult to manage the risk that drug and alcohol use poses to its employees, passengers, and the public,” according to the report.
None of the Amtrak senior managers interviewed for the report said they were aware of the railroad's higher positive test rate, and some stated that they had not seen information on employee drug and alcohol use since 2003.
“Amtrak's current senior management's lack of knowledge about the extent of drug and alcohol use, the lack of engagement in the program, and the limited response to [Federal Railroad Administration] concerns about its physical observations raise serious questions about Amtrak's commitment to controlling drug and alcohol use,” the report said.
From 2006 until 2011, the rate of positive drug and alcohol tests at Amtrak averaged about 1.4 times that of the industry, according to the report.
One reason the industry rate for positive tests is lower than the Amtrak rate is that several large freight railroads test their employees more frequently than the passenger rail company does. The freight railroads test half of their employees in safety-sensitive positions; at Amtrak, on average, 33 percent of employees are tested for drugs and 39 percent for alcohol.
The increased testing rate deters the misuse of drugs and alcohol because employees think there is a greater chance they will be caught, the report stated.
The inspector general also found that Amtrak has not met the FRA physical observance guidelines for many years. In 2011, Amtrak was required to complete nearly 17,000 physical observance tests, but has never met the guidance, doing only about 15,200 in 2011. FRA has threatened to increase enforcement actions against Amtrak, including fining, because of the company's failure to meet testing guidelines.
The report also recommended that Amtrak ensure that supervisors are trained to spot symptoms of drug use, that senior management is more active in the program, and that the rail company meets FRA guidelines for physical observations.
Amtrak President Joseph Boardman agreed with the report's recommendations and said the rail company planned to increase the percentage of random drug tests for certain employees and to form a senior management oversight group that will meet quarterly about the program beginning in 2013.
By Heather Caygle
Text of the report is available at /uploadedFiles/Content/News/Legal_and_Business/Bloomberg_Law/Legal_Reports/Amtrak(1).pdf.
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