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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

NTSB: Sleep apnea probable cause of NJ Transit, LIRR accidents

A NJ Transit train crashed as it arrived at the Hoboken terminal on Sept. 29, 2016.
Photo – NTSB

Two commuter-rail accidents at train stations in the New York City area were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed sleep apnea, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined yesterday.

The Sept. 29, 2016, accident involving a New Jersey Transit train at the terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey, killed one person and injured 110. The MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) accident that occurred Jan. 4, 2017, at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York, injured 108 people.

Both accidents involved trains that struck end-of-track bumping posts and crashed into stations. Both incidents had "almost identical" probable causes and safety issues, NTSB officials said in a press release.

In addition to recommending safety-sensitive personnel be screened for obstructive sleep apnea, the NTSB recommended the use of technology such as positive train control in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations.

The NTSB made two recommendations to NJ Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LIRR's parent organization) and two to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

"Today's new recommendations, if acted upon, have the potential to eliminate end-of-track collisions," said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. "That translates to protection for passengers on trains, and for people standing on terminal platforms."

The complete accident report will be available in several weeks, board officials said.

In August 2017, the NTSB expressed "disappointment" with the withdrawal of a notice of proposed rule-making by the FRA and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The rule would have addressed rail workers and commercial drivers who may be affected by obstructive sleep apnea.

"Obstructive sleep apnea has been in the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents investigated by the NTSB in the past 17 years," board officials said. "Medical fitness and fatigue, two of the NTSB's 10 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 2017-2018, are tied to obstructive sleep apnea.

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