By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board criticized Amtrak's safety record on Tuesday at a hearing on a fatal 2016 crash and said the railroad failed to use critical safety equipment that could have prevented the incident.
An Amtrak train traveling from New York in April 2016 struck a backhoe working on railroad tracks in Chester, Pennsylvania, killing two maintenance workers and injuring 41. The crash caused an estimated $2.5 million in damage.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a hearing the board's "investigation revealed more than two dozen unsafe conditions and not all of these were rule-breaking by frontline employees."
Sumwalt said that "clumsy Amtrak procedures seem to encourage workarounds by workers to get the job done," and said investigators "found a culture of fear" at Amtrak.
The railroad "shut down the reporting of valuable safety information from their employees," he added.
The NTSB found Amtrak managers allowed "multiple unsafe conditions to persist." The report also found three employees involved in the accident tested positive for potentially impairing drugs and one employee told NTSB that Amtrak emphasized on-time performance over safety.
Critical safety equipment was not issued to the maintenance crew that could have prevented the incident that the NTSB blamed a number of preventable unsafe conditions, Sumwalt said.
An Amtrak spokeswoman did not immediately comment.
Amtrak had authorized the maintenance crew to clean the tracks, the NTSB found, but failed to take adequate steps to ensure trains were not using those tracks including using a "shunting device" to show the track is occupied and preventing trains from entering the tracks.
The Georgia-bound passenger train was traveling at 106 miles an hour when the engineer saw the equipment and braked just seconds before the crash, according to video played at the hearing on Tuesday. The 2016 accident in Chester, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles (25 km) southwest of Philadelphia, was the latest in a series involving the U.S. passenger rail carrier. It occurred a few miles south of the site of a May 2015 derailment in which eight people were killed and more than 200 injured.
In March, a slow-moving Amtrak Acela train derailed and sideswiped a New Jersey Transit commuter train at Penn Station, causing minor injuries.
Amtrak this summer named former Delta Air Lines chief executive Richard Anderson as president and later as co-CEO. He assumes the sole role as CEO on Jan. 1. (Reporting by David Shepardson, editing by G Crosse)
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