Safety Board Says Pot Use By Engineer Caused Crash

Posted: January 24, 1988

Drug impairment caused the engineer of a Conrail freight locomotive to speed through several warning signals and into the path of an Amtrak train Jan. 4, 1987, at Chase, Md., the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.

After a year-long investigation of the crash that killed 16 people and injured 175, the board released a report Wednesday stating that the engineer, Ricky L. Gates, was impaired by marijuana use. The presence of marijuana was found in blood and urine samples from both Gates and his brakeman, Edward W. Cromwell. Gates faces trial next month on 16 manslaughter counts stemming from the accident. Cromwell was granted immunity from prosecution for his grand jury testimony.

The safety board said the effects of marijuana use caused Gates and Cromwell not to notice warning signals inside the locomotive cab and over the tracks until it was too late to make a safe stop. The Conrail locomotive never

went slower than 60 m.p.h. before Gates frantically applied the emergency brakes in the last seconds before the crash, investigators said.

The NTSB report also said contributing factors to the crash included safety violations by the two-man Conrail crew, its failure to follow federal railroad operating rules, and the failure of the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, which owns the Northeast Corridor track, to require freight locomotives to have the automatic emergency brakes that would have slowed the train when the warning signals were missed.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently ordered freight railroads to begin installing the automatic brakes this year, and the railroads have until 1990 to finish the installation.

The report also said that if the Amtrak train had been traveling at the proper restricted speed of 105 m.p.h., instead of 125 m.p.h., the collision would have been less severe.

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