Amtrak Official Says Not Testing Crew Was A Mistake
BALTIMORE (AP) _ An Amtrak official said today he was wrong in not requiring drug tests on the Amtrak crew members who survived the Jan. 4 collision of their passenger train and three Conrail locomotives.
″I did not make the decision with the knowledge of violating the (Federal Railroad Administration) law,″ Clayton C. Brown, Amtrak general superintendent for the Philadelphia division, told a National Transportation Safety Board hearing.
″It was a judgment call. It was wrong,″ he said.
Sixteen people were killed, including the Amtrak engineer, and 175 injured in the collision near Chase, north of Baltimore.
Brown said he was aware of the railroad adminstration rules requiring testing after an accident in which people were killed, but decided against it because he believed the Amtrak crew survivors did not contribute to the cause of the accident.
″My main concern was for them being treated at a hospital,″ he said.
The body of the engineer was tested. A control tower operator also was tested because there was a possibility he might have played a role in the accident, since he was responsible for the interlock switch near the accident site, Brown said.
The hearing was expected to conclude today.
Wednesday’s session centered on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s call for an investigation of the laboratory that did the drug tests on the Conrail engineer and brakeman involved in the crash.
This does not mean that the NTSB will automatically throw out the test results on Conrail engineer Richard L. Gates and brakeman Edward Cromwell, but the matter ″bears considerable investigation,″ said NTSB vice chairwoman Patricia Goldman.
″But it’s too late to do tests again at this point,″ she told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing.
The panel heard no testimony from Gates, who has denied smoking marijuana on the train, and Cromwell. Lawyers for both men have said that they would have pleaded their Fifth Amendment rights had they been subpoenaed.
Test results from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City showed the presence of marijuana in the blood and urine of both men operating the Conrail locomotive.
But the transportation department said Wednesday that the railroad administration ″has discovered indications of possible procedural irregularities″ in the way blood and urine samples taken from Gates and Cromwell were handled.
Ms. Goldman said the NTSB also had concerns about the tests and had asked that the University of Utah laboratory also test samples of the two Conrail employees.
The Utah laboratory found different levels of marijuana and also found traces of PCP in Cromwell’s urine, officials said.
″We need to look at the different results of the two laboratories and determine why,″ she said.
The situation points up the need for immediate and valid testing after accidents, a policy that the NTSB has persistently recommended, Ms. Goldman added.
Edward Dubrowski, of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, said the toxicology tests done on Gates and Cromwell should be thrown out based on the FRA’s discovery.
Both Conrail employees have been suspended without pay since the accident in which a unit of three Conrail locomotives ran past several warning signals, sliding into the path of a 12-car Amtrak train with more than 600 people aboard.