NTSB: Am­trak’s lax safety led to crash that killed 2 work­ers

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Michael R. Sisak

PHILADEL­PHIA » Two main­te­nance work­ers who were struck and killed by a speed­ing Am­trak train near Philadel­phia last year were the vic­tims of a lax safety cul­ture that had per­me­ated the gov­ern­ment-owned rail­road, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Tues­day.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board seized on the April 2016 crash in Chester, Penn­syl­va­nia, as the tragic out­come of years of rule bending, cor­ner cut­ting and puni­tive poli­cies that had en­dan­gered and up­set Am­trak work­ers and their unions.

Lapses in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a lack of re­quired equip­ment left the Chester work­ers with no pro­tec­tion and lit­tle warn­ing as the Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia-bound Pal­metto train streaked to­ward their back­hoe at more than 100 mph.

A fore­man who had just taken charge of the main­te­nance crew did not ask a dis­patcher to keep rout­ing trains away from the work­ers, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said, nor did he have a de­vice meant to pre­vent trains from run­ning on the same tracks as work­ers, even though Am­trak rules re­quire its use.

In all, in­ves­ti­ga­tors flagged more than two dozen safety is­sues in the crash, far more than in most crash in­ves­ti­ga­tions, ac­cord­ing to NTSB board mem­ber Earl Weener. Back­hoe op­er­a­tor Joseph Carter Jr., 61, and su­per­vi­sor Pe­ter Adamovich, 59, were killed and about 40 pas­sen­gers were in­jured.

“Had any of th­ese is­sues been ad­dressed, the ac­ci­dent may have been pre­vented,” NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tor Joe Gor­don said at a pub­lic meet­ing on the crash at the agency’s Wash­ing­ton head­quar­ters.

Work­ers told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they felt Am­trak had been em­pha­siz­ing on-time per­for­mance over safety, be­ly­ing the big, red “think safety” signs it posted in em­ployee lounges and its threats to fire work­ers who broke cer­tain rules.

NTSB chair­man Robert Sumwalt said Am­trak’s grab bag of pri­or­i­ties cre­ated a cul­ture of fear and non-com­pli­ance that en­cour­aged work­arounds to “get the job done.” Am­trak’s unions, wary of its ap­proach, re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in two of the rail­road’s safety pro­grams, Sumwalt said.

Am­trak’s co-chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers, Richard An­der­son and Charles “Wick” Moor­man sent a let­ter to em­ploy­ees Tues­day up­dat­ing them on steps the rail­road has taken to trans­form its safety cul­ture since the crash.

They in­clude hir­ing a new head of safety, com­pli­ance and train­ing, is­su­ing alerts and ad­vi­sories to re­mind work­ers of rules and an im­proved worker-pro­tec­tion train­ing pro­gram.

“Our cus­tomers ex­pect us to op­er­ate safely and our jobs and lives de­pend on it,” the co-CEOs wrote. “We can and will do bet­ter. Our pledge to you is that we will do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to help move us for­ward.”

Carter’s fam­ily is su­ing Am­trak for neg­li­gence. Their lawyer, Tom Kline, said they can only hope his death “will re­sult in whole­sale changes” in safety at Am­trak.

Tox­i­col­ogy re­ports showed that Carter had co­caine in his sys­tem, Adamovich tested pos­i­tive for mor­phine, codeine and oxy­codone and the train’s en­gi­neer, Alexan­der Hunter, 47, tested pos­i­tive for mar­i­juana.

Only Hunter, as a train crew mem­ber, would have been sub­ject to ran­dom drug test­ing at the time of the crash. He is no longer em­ployed by Am­trak. No amount of mar­i­juana use by an en­gi­neer is ac­cept­able, the rail­road has said.

In June, fed­eral reg­u­la­tors ex­panded the test­ing pro­gram to in­clude track main­te­nance work­ers. On Mon­day, the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a rule man­dat­ing test­ing for opi­oids be­gin­ning Jan. 1.

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