Police and investigators cover the body of one of the two men killed in an Amtrak train crash in Chester, Pa., April 3, 2016. The Amtrak train struck a backhoe just south of Philadelphia, causing a derailment. (Michael Bryant, Philadelphia Inquirer via The Associated Press)

Report: Amtrak engineer in fatal crash tested positive for marijuana, opioids

Engineer Alexander Hunter told investigators he sounded the horn and pulled the train's emergency brake after 'seeing something' on track number 3, but it was too late to avoid the crash

AP Update:
PHILADELPHIA — Federal safety officials say both maintenance workers killed by an Amtrak train in April near Philadelphia were on drugs when the crash happened.

Toxicology reports released Thursday show backhoe operator Joseph Carter Jr. had cocaine in his system and supervisor Peter Adamovich tested positive for morphine, codeine and oxycodone.

The workers were struck by a train traveling at 100 mph while performing maintenance along the tracks. Tests show the train’s engineer tested positive for marijuana.

Investigators are blaming at a lax safety culture for putting the workers in harm’s way.

The track where the backhoe was working was closed to trains until about 20 minutes before the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators found a foreman supervising the maintenance work never called the train dispatcher to request that the track be closed again.


Previous reporting by Washington Post:

The Amtrak engineer in a crash that killed two workers doing maintenance on the rail bed south of Philadelphia last year tested positive for marijuana and opioids, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report issued Thursday.

The engineer, Alexander Hunter, an engineer with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak for 17 years, survived the crash with minor injuries. But two men working on the railway – Joseph Carter Jr., 61, and Peter John Adamovich, 59, – were killed.

The workers were killed April 3, in Chester, Pa., when a southbound passenger train traveling 106 miles per hour struck a backhoe Carter was operating.

The collision between Amtrak’s Palmetto train, which was carrying 330 passengers and seven crew members, and a backhoe being operated by Carter under Adamovich’s supervision, took place early on a Sunday morning. The southbound train departed Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station at 7:32 a.m. and was gathering speed about 18 minutes later as it began to pass through Chester, according to the NTSB.

A massive cleaning machine had been sitting all weekend on track number 2, one of four tracks that pass through the area. That track had been shut down for the maintenance work. Carter and Adamovich had positioned their backhoe on track number 3, the one which Hunter’s train was roaring down at 106 miles per hour, according to the NTSB.

Hunter told investigators he sounded the horn and pulled the train’s emergency brake after “seeing something” on track number 3, but it was too late to avoid the crash.

“Then, you know, once I realized like – I knew – like, I could see, like when I got closer, that [the backhoe] was pretty well onto my track and I – you know, I knew I was going to hit him,” Hunter told the NTSB investigators two days after the accident. “I could feel the train lift up, and . . . I just kind of curled up in a ball in the deck of the locomotive and waited for it to stop.”

The engine derailed but remained upright. Hunter and 40 people on board were taken to hospitals with minor injuries.

The positive drug test was part of an alarming increase in drug use by railroad workers that was documented last year by the Federal Railroad Administration. Nearly 5 percent of workers involved in accidents in 2016 were found to have used illegal drugs.

The FRA reacted to the Chester crash by requiring that track-bed maintenance workers be included in the extensive drug testing program that has been in place for train crew members for more than 30 years.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation for The Washington Post. Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashleyhalsey3rd