Feds cite lax safety culture in Amtrak crash
Philadelphia — 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 crew performing maintenance along the tracks had failed to follow procedures designed to keep workers safe and said 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.
The track where the backhoe was working was closed to train traffic until about 20 minutes before the crash. After a shift change, the new foreman never called the train dispatcher to request that the track be closed again, investigators found.
An Amtrak spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation.
The NTSB 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.
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 with the marijuana in drug testing.
Investigators weren’t concerned about finding the morphine because it was given to Hunter during his post-crash treatment.
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.
Hunter didn’t respond to a telephone message.
The union representing him, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said it could not comment while the crash investigation is still open.