Screening for sleep apnea could have prevented two recent train crashes – the September 2016 NJ Transit train crash in Hoboken, New Jersey, and a Long Island Railroad (LIRR) crash in Brooklyn that happened in January 2017. A report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officially cited failure to screen for sleep apnea, and the fact that both engineers were operating the trains while fatigued, as causes for the crashes.
Sleep apnea is serious sleep disorder that interrupts the affected person’s sleep – sometimes hundreds of times a night – making it impossible to experience the deep and restful state needed for the body to recuperate each evening. Sleep apnea sufferers may not even realize they did not sleep, but are left with daytime fatigue, irritability, and headaches. The Federal Railroad Administration had proposed mandating screenings for sleep apnea, but the proposal was withdrawn in August 2017 as part of the Trump administration’s practice of reducing regulations. The medical officer for the NTSB described the screening test for sleep apnea as “simple and inexpensive,” and said that in many of the crashes that the board investigated, driver fatigue was involved.
The Hoboken crash killed one person and caused an estimated $6 million in property damage. The train accelerated into the station instead of slowing down. The engineer had been screened for sleep apnea in 2013, but despite his risk factors for the disorder, including obesity, he was not referred for further study. At the time of the crash he weighed 322 pounds and after the crash it was determined that he suffers from obstructive sleep apnea. Since the crash in Hoboken, NJ Transit has implemented screening for all crew members and those who need treatment are taken out of service.
The LIRR crash in Brooklyn injured more than a hundred people and resulted in more than $5 million in property damage. The train ran through a post at the end of the track because the engineer fell asleep as the train entered the terminal. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates LIRR and has now instituted sleep apnea screening and treatment programs for all train operators, bus operators, and locomotive engineers. The MTA emphasized that even without a federal mandate, they will carry out their programs as recommended by the NTSB.
The NTSB noted that in both accidents, positive train control technology, or automatic braking, could have stopped the trains. In the terminals where the Hoboken and Brooklyn crashes happened, the logistics of the system, which depend on satellite reception, makes it difficult to install. A federal mandate says the technology is supposed to be fully operational across the U.S. by the end of the year, but both terminals had been granted waivers from the mandate.
If you have been injured in a train accident, you may be entitled to substantial compensation. Contact a skilled Delaware County train accident lawyer at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. to discuss your legal options. We will fight on your behalf to obtain maximum compensation for your injuries and hold negligent parties accountable. Call 610-565-3700 today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. From our offices in Media and West Chester we represent clients across Southeastern Pennsylvania, including those in Chester County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County.