A proposed rule requiring random drug testing for train engineers and dispatchers would improve the safety record of the nation's railroads, a federal official told a hearing in Los Angeles on Thursday.
John Riley, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the proposed rule would replace a requirement that employees can only be tested if their supervisors have reasonable cause. Riley said the requirement can be easily circumvented because some drugs do not produce symptoms recognizable by a layman. He said an employee may also avoid the requirement by staying sober until leaving the train station.
But union officials said the proposed rule would only lead to harassment of rail employees by supervisors.
"Even if a man is chosen at random, there is no guarantee the test will be given in a fair and impartial way. There are personalities involved," said Jim Dayton, vice president of the Brotherhood of Local Engineers, which represents 27,000 U.S. rail workers.
Saying he opposes all rail worker drug tests, Dayton proposed programs aimed at prevention and education, some of which are already in place.
"We recognize that alcohol and drug abuse is dehumanizing to the victims (of train accidents), but we don't want the cure for the problem to dehumanize us," he said.
Under the proposed rule, a certain percentage of employees in safety-related positions would be randomly tested each year.
"There's a hard core of drug users that have not been deterred," Riley said. "To the extent we have accidents, they are invariably drug-related, and that's why we have to move in the direction of a random test."
In the last 18 months, there have been 51 major train accidents involving one or more employees who subsequently tested positive for drugs--or an average of one drug-related accident every 10 days, Riley said. Thirty-one people were killed and 375 injured in these accidents.