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NTSB Blames Amtrak for Fatal Crash

— November 16, 2017

A federal agency blamed the safety culture at Amtrak for last year’s fatal crash near Philadelphia, which left two railway employees dead along the tracks.

Traveling at 106 miles per hour – just below its authorized speed – the train collided with a piece of construction equipment parked close to the rail line.

Immediately after spotting the backhoe sitting alongside the tracks, the engineer pulled an emergency brake. But, less than six seconds later, the train collided with the vehicle.

The force of the impact led to a derailment. Two Amtrak employees who were working on a nearby track bed were killed by the runaway train.

An investigation into the circumstances of the crash yielded surprising results – toxicology tests showed that the engineer as well as the two dead workers had all been under the influence of various substances.

The conductor tested positive for marijuana, while an autopsy showed morphine, codeine and oxycodone still in the systems of the deceased.

The Hill reports that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a hearing in Washington to discuss the probable cause of the crash. Investigators ripped into Amtrak, faulting the corporation and its policies for the deaths.

Emergency personnel on the scene of the crash. AP Images.

NTSB officials criticized Amtrak’s leadership for failing to “randomly drug test employees, consistently use safety equipment and ensure communication among its employees during shift changes – all of which the panel said could have prevented the crash.”

“Amtrak’s safety programs were deficient and failed to provide effective first-line safety oversight,” said the NTSB report. “The lack of consistent knowledge and vision for safety across Amtrak’s management created a culture that facilitated and enabled unsafe work practices by employees.”

While Amtrak does drug test some of its employees, the investigation showed it didn’t routinely test its maintenance-of-way workers.

“The participation of the two roadway workers in the pool for random testing might have deterred them from using cocaine and opiates,” investigators said.

And the chairman of the NTSB, Robert Sumwalt, suggested that Amtrak had made a habit of circumventing its own rules.

“Despite the emphasis on rules compliance, investigators did not find a culture of compliance at all. Rather, they found a culture of fear, on one hand, and normalization of deviance from the rules on the other,” said Sumwalt.

In total, the agency found 20 safety lapses which contributed to the crash.

Although Amtrak had procedures in place to avert catastrophe and ensure rule compliance, the NTSB says workers weren’t going by the book. Worse yet, there seemed to have been little effective oversight of the men working along the tracks.

“I don’t recall ever seeing an accident with 20 different prevention factors,” said Earl Weener, a member of the NTSB board. “It’s generally more like three or four.”


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