U.S. Safety Board Blames Two NYC-Area Commuter Crashes on Sleep Disorders

By | February 7, 2018

A U.S. investigative agency said on Tuesday that two New York City area commuter train crashes were the result of engineers with undiagnosed sleep disorders.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized the lack of safety systems in both crashes that could have prevented the incidents.

The board said two recent crashes had almost identical probable causes. A New Jersey Transit train crashed in a terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey, in September 2016, killing one person and injuring 110. In January, a Long Island Rail Road train crashed at the Atlantic Terminal in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, injuring 108 people.

Both engineers suffered from sleep apnea, which is characterized by shallow or interrupted breathing during sleep and can leave sufferers fatigued.

The trains were speeding and overran the tracks. The NTSB said New Jersey Transit failed “to follow internal guidance and refer at-risk safety sensitive personnel” for sleep disorder screening.

The Obama administration had been considering requiring truck drivers and railroad engineers to be screened for sleep apnea, but the Trump administration scrapped the effort in August. The NTSB said that decision “jeopardizes public safety.”

The NTSB has called for years for stricter screening of drivers and engineers for sleep apnea, citing numerous crashes blamed on the disorder.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the parent of LIRR, said “the MTA has an established and aggressive sleep apnea screening and treatment program for all train and bus operators and locomotive engineers in line with the NTSB’s recommendations and we are moving forward with this program, even in the absence of a federal mandate.”

New Jersey Transit did not immediately comment.

In 2014, the NTSB said the driver of a train that derailed in New York City the previous year had an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Four passengers were killed in that accident.

The report also noted that all passenger railroads that operate terminals with terminating tracks, including New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road, have asked to be excluded from installing positive train control, a system designed to prevent derailments or crashes caused by excessive speed, in those locations.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has granted the requests, the report said.

The NTSB wants the FRA to require intercity passenger railroads to implement technology to stop a train before it reaches the end of the tracks and said that “bumping posts” in terminals are not adequate.

The FRA did not immediately comment Tuesday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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