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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Senators call on Chao to reconsider sleep apnea rule


U.S. Senate Democrats have asked the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to reconsider its recent decision to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to mandate sleep apnea testing for train operators and commercial truck drivers.

In a letter sent Monday to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the senators asked for the data the USDOT used to make the decision to withdraw the rule, along with the department's plan to identify and treat rail operators and truckers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

"We strongly believe that USDOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies," stated the letter, which was signed by U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The senators raised transportation safety concerns involving train and truck operators with sleep apnea, and cited a deadly train derailment in Hoboken, N.J., earlier this year as one example.

"Due to our serious concern over this decision to vacate this potentially life-saving rule, please provide our offices all data and information used to make the decision to withdraw the rule, and DOT's plan to identify and treat operators suffering from obstructive sleep apnea before more fatal tragedies take place," the letter stated.

In March 2016, President Barack Obama's administration proposed a rule that would have expanded sleep apnea testing and treatment requirements for train and commercial truck operators across the nation. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump's administration announced it was withdrawing the rule.

Since at least 2001, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has linked sleep apnea to a number of truck and train accidents that have killed dozens of people.

"Our region, in particular, has been devastated in recent years by rail accidents linked to sleep apnea," the senators wrote.

They also cited the December 2013 MTA Metro-North Railroad derailment outside of New York City, which was determined to have been linked to sleep apnea on the part of the train operator. The accident resulted in four fatalities and more than 60 people injured.

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