Amtrak engineer in deadly crash tested positive for marijuana

Amtrak engineer in deadly crash tested positive for marijuana
© Greg Nash

The train engineer in a deadly Amtrak crash that killed two workers near Philadelphia last year tested positive for marijuana, according to documents released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The 47-year-old engineer reportedly had traces of the substance in his blood and urine when the train he was operating struck a piece of construction equipment parked on the tracks south of Philadelphia.

The train derailed, killing two employees who were working on the track bed and injuring dozens of passengers. The locomotive was going 106 mph in an area where the speed limit was 110 mph.

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The engineer, who has worked for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak for a total of 17 years, said he pulled the emergency brake as soon as he spotted the backhoe sitting on the track. The train hit the equipment 6 seconds later, according to the NTSB documents.

Officials have pointed to a lack of communication as a possible factor in the crash. The NTSB is expected to release its own conclusions and recommendations later this year.

In accordance with federal regulations, the engineer, conductor, two assistant conductors and two dispatchers were tested for drugs and alcohol.

Toxicology results showed that the engineer tested positive for marijuana in both his blood and urine tests. He also tested positive for opiates or opioids, though it was later noted he had received morphine for the injuries he sustained in the crash, according to the NTSB documents.

The engineer told investigators he did not suffer from sleep disorders, was in overall good health and felt alert at the start of his shift.

Months after the Philadelphia 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 that the number of railroad workers involved in accidents who tested positive for drug use had skyrocketed in 2016.

“Whether you are an engineer, conductor or someone working alongside the tracks, safety requires alertness,” FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg said in a press release when the final rule was released. “Any reduction in awareness caused by drugs or alcohol use can often be the difference between life and death.”