The National Transportation Safety Board ruled yesterday that alcohol or drug use by railroad employes played a part in two freight-train wrecks on the Burlington Northern last April that killed seven employes.
The findings came after Chairman Jim Burnett reiterated the board's 10-year-old recommendation that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) adopt enforceable rules against drug and alcohol use by railroad employes on duty or scheduled to report. The Federal Aviation Administration has had such rules for flight crews for years.
Burnett said that the absence of federal regulation "is a reflection of the FRA's insensitivity to past and future victims of the drunk or drugged railroad employe."
The railroad agency proposed a rule last June 5 but has yet to adopt it.
FRA Administrator John H. Riley said that his agency had held four hearings on the proposal and that FRA officials had contacted 2,000 railroad managers and labor officials to promote no-penalty treatment programs for employes who step forward and seek help..
"I have never confronted a more complex issue," Riley said. ". . . This rule must strike a balance between the public's right to be protected and the individual's right to be dealt with in a fair manner."
He said all substantive decisions had been made and that writing the rule would be completed shortly. Then it must be reviewed at the Transportation Department and the Office of Management and Budget, not always a swift process.
"If Burnett wants to claim credit for the rule, he can claim all the credit he wants," Riley said. "I'm not in this for credit, but to save lives."
Last April 13, five Burlington Northern crew members were killed when two freight trains collided head-on at Wiggins, Colo. The board said the engineer and other crew members of one train were asleep and failed to obey signals. "Contributing to the failure of the engineer and fireman was their consumption of alcohol and fatigue," the board said.
On April 22, a Burlington Northern freight train struck the rear of another freight near Newcastle, Wyo., and two crew members were killed. The engineer and firemen of the striking train, the board said, "were asleep or, in the case of the engineer, otherwise impaired."
"Contributing to their failure was the use of marijuana by the engineer," the board said.