Did Transit Engineers’ Sleep Apnea Cause Two Derailments?
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board into two train derailments in the New York metro area revealed that both engineers were suffering from obstructive sleep apnea at the time of their crashes. In September 2016, a NJ Transit train derailed in Hoboken, causing an avalanche of debris that killed a woman standing on the platform. In January 2017, a Long Island Rail Road train crashed at Atlantic Terminal, causing more than 100 nonfatal injuries. It is unclear whether the engineers’ health condition was a factor in the accidents, which were remarkably similar in that both trains simply failed to stop at the end of the tracks.
Though often undiagnosed, sleep apnea is a common and usually chronic condition in which breathing stops or becomes more shallow, disrupting sleep to such an extent that is often cited as the major cause of daytime sleepiness.
According to amNewYork, the sleep disorder has been linked to several crashes in recent years, including the 2013 derailment of a Metro-North train as it approached a sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates the LIRR and Metro-North, has dedicated $7.5 million to screening employees for sleep apnea since the LIRR crash and has thus far tested 45 percent of the targeted workforce.
The engineers involved in the most recent crashes were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type of the condition, especially among overweight people, in which “the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep.” This can result in loud snoring. Sleep apnea elevates the risks of other health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
And, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea can also “increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents.” This is important information for transit authorities, but it’s also vital information for the public at large. How many people in this country are on the roads or operating machinery at work while struggling with sleep apnea-induced drowsiness?
As advocates for injured transit passengers and victims of traffic accidents, Barasch & McGarry hopes the public hears this message and applies the lesson to their own lives: drowsy driving is a risky behavior.