Undiagnosed sleep apnea cause of two rail crashes: NTSB

Undiagnosed sleep apnea cause of two rail crashes: NTSB
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Undiagnosed sleep apnea was at least partially to blame for two separate rail crashes in the last two years, the government’s transportation safety agency found in a new report released Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed the sleeping disorder for a 2016 crash in Hoboken, N.J., in addition to a 2017 accident in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The engineer’s undetected sleeping disorder, in addition to the absence of a safety method to prevent the accident, contributed to the Sept. 29, 2016, crash that left one person dead when the New Jersey Transit train smashed into the terminal.

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The safety agency also said New Jersey Transit failed to adhere to the transportation system’s own guidelines on testing for sleep apnea, but also faulted the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for not mandating testing. 

“The traveling public deserves alert operators,” said Robert Sumwalt, the safety board's chairman. “That is not too much to ask.”

Investigators found that undetected sleep apnea also caused the Jan. 4, 2017, crash that left 108 individuals injured when a Long Island Rail Road train slammed into Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal.

The engineer in that incident “fell asleep due to his chronic fatigue,” the report said. The safety agency cited both the absence of a preventative safety system to stop the crash, in addition to the FRA’s failure to order sleep disorder testing, as causes.

The report comes after the Trump administration last year discarded an Obama-era proposal to test bus, rail and train operators for sleeping disorders.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerElection Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority Booker to campaign for Dem in Mississippi Senate runoff Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators MORE (D-N.J.) slammed that decision in a statement following the report, calling for additional safety procedures in light of the findings.

“Today’s NTSB report underscores just how shortsighted and reckless the Trump Administration’s decision was to reverse the rule requiring sleep apnea testing and treatment,” Booker said.

“The safety of commuters in New Jersey and across our nation must remain a top priority. We simply cannot stand idly by and wait for the next tragic incident.”

The NTSB said the FRA should mandate commuter rails to enact technology aimed at preventing trains “from reaching the end of the tracks.” The agency also said the umbrella company that owns the Long Island Rail Road should incorporate disorders such as sleep apnea in its safety blueprint’s hazard management section.