NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With sleep apnea now blamed for two major commuter train accidents in the Tri-State Area in the last year and a half, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) believes the Trump administration could be raising the risk of another disaster.
As WCBS 880’s Ethan Harp reported, Schumer demanded action Sunday.
“Please wake up when it comes to the benefits of testing for sleep apnea,” Schumer said.
Standing in the middle of Grand Central Terminal, Schumer condemned the U.S. Department of Transportation for reversing course this summer on a rule that required sleep apnea screening for engineers nationwide.
“Because if we don’t test, there’s going to be more derailments, more crashes, more chaos, more injuries and God forbid, but there’s going to be more deaths as well,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s worry grew after last week’s National Transportation Safety Board report, which indicated that the crashes involving an NJ TRANSIT train at the Hoboken Terminal in September 2016, and a LIRR train at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn in January 2017, both involved engineers with sleep apnea.
“I’m renewing my call on DOT to reverse their very, very dumb decision,” Schumer said.
NTSB member Dr. Nicholas Webster said the engineers of both trains suffered from extreme cases of the condition.
The NTSB blamed NJ TRANSIT and the LIRR for not having required testing in place.
“The public deserves alert operators. That’s not too much to ask,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
The NTSB also blamed the Federal Railroad Administration for not making sleep apnea testing mandatory.
“Staff believe the NJT and LIRR accidents are further evidence of the hazard that undiagnosed, obstructed sleep apnea pose to transportation safety,” Webster said.
Webster also said Positive Train Control measures on the locomotives would have slowed down the trains before the impact.
The NJ TRANSIT crash in Hoboken left one person dead and more than 100 injured. The LIRR crash at Atlantic Terminal also injured more than 100 people.
Both trains were traveling at twice the posted speed limit as they reached the stations. In both cases, the train engineers had no memory of the accident.
Sleep apnea was also blamed for a December 2013 wreck on the Metro-North Railroad in the Bronx.
Officials in that incident determined the train was going 82 mph as it approached a 30 mph zone leading into a curve near Spuyten Duyvil. The train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, told a union head he had “nodded” and zoned out just before the train derailed.