NTSB questions delay of drug tests Test of Conrail crew was delayed 8 hours after train wreck.

April 15, 1991|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Evening Sun Staff

Federal investigators probing the train collision Friday near Chase today expressed concern over an eight-hour delay from the time of the crash to the time four crew members of the Conrail freight train submitted to urine tests.

Alan Pollock, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, called the delay a "serious matter" and said Conrail officials delayed the testing of their crew members because the damage estimate was not clear during the first hours following the crash.

The tests are required of all personnel involved in an accident if property damage exceeds $500,000.

"First, they cited the uncertainty of the amount of damage," Pollock said. "Then, they said their crew was busy moving the train."

Pollack said the two injured Amtrak crew members and the railroad dispatcher were tested "as soon as possible" while the Conrail crew waited until "sometime after 11:30 a.m." before submitting to a test.

"This time factor is important especially regarding alcohol," Pollock said. Alcohol is broken down more quickly than other drugs and, consequently, becomes more difficult to detect in laboratory tests.

Test results should be ready within three weeks, Pollock said.

Robert Libkind, a Conrail spokesman, today cited the $500,000 damage figure in the mandatory test requirement and said, "There was no reasonable cause to have our people tested. Our train was where it was supposed to be."

Raymond Hunsberger, 38, the injured Amtrak engineer, was released from the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore late Saturday. The injured conductor, Ronald Hairston, 48, is listed in fair condition with facial injuries.

NTSB investigators have found that Amtrak workers failed to properly connect the air brake lines between a diesel locomotive and the three "dead" electric engines it was pulling.

The diesel locomotive and its string of locomotives struck a 124-car Conrail train that was moving through a switch just south of the Gunpowder River Bridge near Chase. The accident occurred only about 100 yards from where a 1987 accident killed 16 people and injured 176.

Pollock said there is no indication that Friday's accident was linked to the labor difficulties facing the nation's railroad industry.

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