New York-area rail crashes blamed on lack of sleep apnea testing

  • FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2017 file photo, an injured passenger is taken from the Atlantic Terminal in the Brooklyn borough of New York after a Long Island Rail Road train hit a bumping block. The National Transportation Safety Board is meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 and plans to release the probable causes of the Brooklyn crash. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) Mark Lennihan

  • Damage from a train crash that killed a woman and injured more than 100 at the Hoboken Terminal in Hoboken, N.J. ap file photo

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

A lack of adequate testing for a pernicious sleep disorder was the primary cause of two serious train crashes in New Jersey and New York, federal investigators concluded in a report Tuesday as they renewed the call for the testing to be mandatory.

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.

In both instances, 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 NTSB blamed New Jersey Transit for not following its sleep apnea guidelines and blamed the Long Island Rail Road for not having testing in place before the accidents. It also blamed the Federal Railroad Administration for not making sleep apnea testing mandatory.

Last year, 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. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, both Democrats, countered the Republican president’s move by introducing legislation that would force the testing to be mandatory.

In the Brooklyn and Hoboken crashes, neither engineer could remember his train accelerating as it approached the station and smashed into the end of the tracks.

In 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.