A report that was issued by Federal Investigators on Tuesday concluded that the lack of adequate testing for a pernicious sleep disorder was the primary cause of two serious train crashes in New Jersey and New York. Fortunately, the investigators renewed the call for the testing to be compulsory.
This comes just days after a fatal Amtrak crash in South Carolina. There was also another Amtrak passenger train that crashed into a freight train near Columbia on Sunday, killing two Amtrak workers and leaving more than 100 people hurt.
Not to mention the Amtrak train that was heading to New York City from Washington, before it experienced a mechanical issue after two cars unfastened Tuesday morning while traveling at 125 miles per hour near Havre de Grace, Maryland.
In this case, investigators set out to unravel the crashes involving a New Jersey Transit train at the Hoboken terminal in September 2016 and a Long Island Rail Road train in Brooklyn in January 2017 killed one person, injured more than 200 and caused more than $11 million in damage.
It turns out that in both cases, the train engineers were found to have suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, a condition connected to obesity that robs sufferers of sleep and contributes to daytime drowsiness.
The New Jersey Transit has been blamed by the NTSB for not following its sleep apnea guidelines and blamed the Long Island Rail Road for not having testing in place before the accidents. The Federal Railroad Administration was also blamed for not making sleep apnea testing mandatory.
Both railroads were also faulted by NTSB for not considering end-of-track accidents as a potential hazard despite similar, albeit far less serious, incidents over the previous 10 years. The FRA abandoned plans to require the testing as part of President Donald Trump’s effort to reduce federal regulations, instead leaving it up to individual rail operators.
A legislation was issued by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, both Democrats, to force the testing to be mandatory. The Brooklyn and Hoboken crashes happened because neither engineer could remember his train accelerating as it approached the station and smashed into the end of the tracks.
During the Hoboken crash, a woman standing on the platform was killed by falling debris.
“The public deserves alert operators. That’s not too much to ask,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said Tuesday.
The NTSB has cited sleep apnea in the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents in the past 17 years, including an undiagnosed case in the engineer of a Metro-North Railroad commuter train that sped through a curve and crashed in New York in 2013, killing four people.
Dr. Nicholas Webster, an NTSB medical officer, told board members Tuesday that inadequate screening and treatment has “led to worker impairment, collisions involving tens of millions of dollars in damage, and loss of life,” Dr. Nicholas Webster, an NTSB medical officer, told board members Tuesday.
“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,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said Tuesday.