DRUG ABUSE RULED OUT IN ALA. AMTRAK CRASH

DRUG ABUSE RULED OUT IN ALA. AMTRAK CRASH

The National Transportation Safety Board has tentatively ruled out drugs and alcohol abuse as a factor in the Sept. 22 Amtrak crash near Saraland, Ala., that killed 47.

Amtrak employees and crewmembers of a barge suspected of hitting a rail bridge tested negative for the substances, according to a pre-hearing NTSB accident summary.On a second point, divers hired by the safety board have found the bridge pilings to be in "good, firm and sound condition with no evidence of any deterioration or decay."

The initial findings of the NTSB, including interviews, depositions and technical reports, were distributed last week to lawyers for the official parties at a pre-hearing meeting. At the meeting, the NTSB and other parties determined who would be called as witnesses and what areas of questioning would be allowed during three days of hearings beginning next Monday in Mobile, Ala.

The main focus of the investigation has been the activities by the crew of the Mauvilla, a towboat owned by Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co. The NTSB also is looking at other factors that could help avoid such crashes in the future and aid rescue attempts to limit deaths and injuries in similar mishaps.

Survivors of the Sept. 22 accident will testify Monday, with the focus on rescue procedures. Amtrak and CSX Transportation, the owner of the bridge, will testify about the condition of the bridge, train equipment and operating procedures.

Federal regulators also will be questioned Tuesday about lighting and signals for bridges that are over water and a rail supply company will testify on whether technology is now available to detect when rails are pushed out of alignment but not broken, as happened in the Saraland crash.

The captain of the barge crew, Andrew Stabler, and the W&GN general manager will testify Wednesday. They are expected to be asked when they realized the barge had hit a bridge and whether they knew they had entered the non- navigable waters of the Bayou Canot.

NTSB investigators have said publicly that questions exist with different versions of the timing of the crash. The pre-hearing documents show that the safety agency is questioning the barge crew's version of events and not the train crew's timetable.

Official parties to the investigation include CSX Transportation, which owns and maintains the bridge, Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Coast Guard, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Warrior & Gulf Navigation.

In addition to the NTSB, investigators for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local and state law enforcement agencies have been involved in the probe. The FBI and local law enforcement officials have focused on whether the towboat and barges had entered the bayou accidently, whether they had changed their story of the night's events and the configuration at different times of the six barges being pushed by the Mauvilla.

The FBI, the Mobile County Sheriffs Department and members of a task force

put together by the attorney general for the Thirteenth Judicial District of Alabama asked a number of other barge pilots and captains whether it would be easy to mistakenly enter the bayou. All said no, that it would be a difficult mistake to make. One pilot told a Mobile County Sheriff's deputy that he had never heard of anyone making the error in the past.

Another pilot, who works for Scott Paper Co., told the investigators that he didn't see how anyone "could get six barges around that tiny little bend there."

Another pilot told the investigators that he had never heard of any one using that bayou to tie up barges during foggy weather.

Official statements about the Sept. 22 accident were not taken from the barge crew until Sept. 30, although statements were taken from most other witnesses within two days after the accident. The delay resulted from the barge crew refusing to talk with the NTSB or others until they had retained legal counsel.