02.12.18

SCHUMER REVEALS: NEW NTSB REPORT ON NY-METRO TRAIN CRASHES PROVES FEDS' GRAVE MISTAKE IN ABANDONING RULE TO SCREEN TRAIN OPERATORS FOR APNEA; WITHOUT FED RULE FOR APNEA SCREENING, DEADLY CRASHES WILL PERSIST; SCHUMER PUTS DOT ON NOTICE & URGES ACTION

NTSB Just Said Failure To Test And Treat For Sleep Apnea Was The Reason For Two Recent NYC-Metro Crashes; Brooklyn & Hoboken Final Conclusions Prove Fed DOT Must Reinstate Fed Rule To Screen For Sleep-Disorders 

Schumer First Got Railroad Admin To Begin Process For Apnea Testing In 2016—But A Year Later Feds Bizarrely Back-Tracked On The Rule Which Would Help Save Lives

Schumer To Fed DOT: Wake Up & Reinstate Fed Rule To Test For Sleep Apnea; Lives Are At Stake  

On the heels of a brand new National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation‎ that screams out for a national sleep apnea and other sleep disorder screening test for train operators, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today demanded that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) reverse their decision to derail a rulemaking process that would have paved the way for required sleep apnea screening and treatment mandates for rail engineers across the nation.

 “The non-partisan, ‎expert-led NTSB, whose mission it is to advance transportation safety, just sounded an alarm that should be deafening to the federal DOT when it comes to their inexcusable decision to halt a national sleep apnea screening standard from being implemented, “said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. "After the tragedies in Brooklyn and Hoboken‎, and at Spuyten-Duyvil, it is clearer than ever that sleep apnea screening tests for train operators is a common sense precaution that can save lives. The Trump administration is asleep at the switch if they do not heed the ‎latest NTSB recommendation to reinstate ‎this commonsense sleep apnea rule‎. The DOT must get across sleep apnea screening back on track before it is too late-- this puts them on notice." 

Schumer’s letter to the DOT comes on the heels of a National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation concluding that two recent crashes in Brooklyn and Hoboken were the result of the train engineers’ fatigue and their employers’ failure to screen and treat for sleep apnea. Despite numerous sleep apnea-related crashes, the DOT last year abruptly abandoned their proposed rule last year. Schumer said that the DOT must immediately get this rulemaking ‎back on track in order to help avoid future fatigue-related rail tragedies.

For more than a decade, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that railroads test and treat vehicle operators for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, which was long ignored until a series of deadly, related accidents. Following a 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx that tragically killed four people, the MTA began developing a pilot project to screen and treat Metro-North engineers for sleep disorders and later expanded the program to the Long Island Rail Road. Similarly, following a 2008 accident on the T train in Boston, the New York City Transit system began screening and treating subway train operators for obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Nearly 20 percent of the major investigations completed by NTSB between 2001 and 2012 identified fatigue issues as a probable cause.

NTSB confirmed this week that undiagnosed and treated sleep apnea was the probable cause in the derailment of a New Jersey Transit train at the Hoboken Terminal that killed one person and injured 110 in September 2016 and in the Long Island Rail Road accident at Atlantic Terminal that injured 108 people in January 2017. In 2016, the Federal Railroad Association (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) began to move forward with a rulemaking process that would have paved the way for required sleep apnea testing across the board, however, in August 2017 both agencies announced that they plan to withdraw from this rulemaking process. Schumer said after recent investigations attributing the train crashes to sleep apnea, it makes no sense for the feds to derail sleep apnea testing and without this requirement, the safety of rail passengers could be put at risk.

On September 29th, 2016, a New Jersey commuter train crashed at the Hoboken Terminal. The accident led to the death of one person and 110 injuries. On January 4th, 2017 a Long Island Rail Road train originating from Far Rockaway derailed at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal, injuring 103 people. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the train was traveling at more than ten miles per hour when it hit a bumping block at the end of the tracks and crashed into a small room, causing the first two cars of the train to derail. The speed limit at this portion of the tracks is only five miles per hour. According to reports, the engineer operating the train said he could not remember the crash. The engineer began his shift around midnight, while the crash occurred around 8am.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the FRA require all railroads to screen for and treat sleep apnea more than a decade ago, after a 2001 accident in Michigan, however, some rail lines have yet to perform a single sleep apnea test.‎ The FRA and FMCSA 2017withdrawal from the proposed rule focused on requiring sleep apnea tests endangers train travelers across the country. Schumer said that while the MTA has committed to sleep apnea testing, the DOT must require all rail lines to conduct these tests without wiggle room. Moreover, Schumer said that a federal rule requiring these tests means that rail lines cannot one day decide to stop conducting these screenings. Schumer said that sleep apnea testing should be the law of the land for rail workers and commercial drivers in safety-sensitive positions.

Schumer said that without proactive testing and screening, deadly derailments could keep happening and put rail passengers and everyday commuters in danger. In their recent Special Investigation Report, NTSB found “the failure of the Federal Railroad Administration to adequately address the issue of employee fatigue due to obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, most recently evidenced by the August 2017 withdrawal of the advance notice of proposed rulemaking, jeopardizes public safety.” Further, NTSB Chairman, Robert Sumwalt, stated he was “mystified” by the withdrawal last year of the proposed federal rule on screening train crews for sleep apnea.

Schumer today urged the DOT to immediately reconsider the decision to withdraw the proposed rule in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies. Schumer said the proposed rule consisted of a modest, common-sense approach to combating fatigue on our rails and roads. Schumer said we must require across the board testing for obstructive sleep apnea if a problematic symptom is observed, preventing further injuries and possible deaths related to train crashes.

Dear Secretary Chao:

In light of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) February 6th meeting and Special Investigation Report on the end-of-track collisions at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York and the terminal station in Hoboken, New Jersey, I write to express my continued serious concerns regarding the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to withdraw the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) joint rulemaking entitled “Evaluation of Safety Sensitive Personnel for Moderate-to-Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”

NTSB, whose mission is to advance transportation safety, has made clear yet again that USDOT should require screening and testing of train engineers for sleep apnea. In their Special Investigation Report, NTSB found “the failure of the Federal Railroad Administration to adequately address the issue of employee fatigue due to obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, most recently evidenced by the August 2017 withdrawal of the advance notice of proposed rulemaking, jeopardizes public safety.” Further, NTSB Chairman, Robert Sumwalt, stated he was “mystified” by the withdrawal last year of the proposed federal rule on screening train crews for sleep apnea.

As you know, obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that interrupts a person's breathing while asleep, causing repeated awakening and subsequent severe fatigue. NTSB has linked obstructive sleep apnea to a number of recent truck and rail accidents killing dozens of individuals and for over a decade has recommended the FRA require all railroads to screen for and treat sleep apnea following a 2001 accident in Michigan.. The New York region, in particular, has been devastated in recent years by rail accidents linked to sleep apnea. This week,NTSB officially concluded that the train engineers’ fatigue and their employers failure to screen for sleep apnea caused two crashes in the region – a NJ Transit accident in September 2016 that killed one person and injured 110 others at Hoboken, New Jersey and a Long Island Rail Road accident in January 2017 at Atlantic Terminal that injured 108 people. In 2014, NTSB released its report on the December 2013 Metro-North Railroad derailment in New York that resulted in four deaths and over 60 injuries and faulted both Metro-North for not screening for sleep disorder and the FRA for not requiring the railroads to perform these evaluations.

I urge you to immediately reconsider your decision to withdraw the proposed rule in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies. The proposed rule consisted of a modest, common-sense approach to combating fatigue on our rails and roads: require testing for obstructive sleep apnea if a problematic symptom is observed. Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical issue. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my staff. 



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