Sleep problems are often blamed for feeling unfocused, tired, and unenergetic. In the case of two commuter train accidents in New York City, however, sleep problems are being blamed for a number of injuries and one death. According to an investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the engineers on the trains had undiagnosed sleep disorders. These disorders caused the engineers to be less focused on their jobs than they should have been.
The two crashes are very similar. In fact, the NTSB investigation shows that they are nearly identical in some ways, especially in how sleep problems were at the root of both. The first accidents occurred in September of 2016, at the Hoboken terminal in New Jersey. One of the New Jersey Transit trains didn’t stop when it should have and actually ran straight into the terminal. One person was killed, while 110 were injured.
The other accident occurred in Brooklyn in New York City in January of 2017. One of the Long Island Rail Road trains crashed into the Atlantic Terminal. While no one was killed, 108 people were injured.
According to the report by the NTSB, both of these trains were going too fast when they entered the terminal area. The problem is that the engineers were extremely tired and not paying attention. Both, according to the study, suffered from sleep apnea. This is one of the more severe sleep problems that is known for causing sleepers to take very shallow breaths while sleeping. Some even have their breathing interrupted, causing them to wake up multiple times a night. The end result is very little sleep.
While President Obama was in office, his administration considered new guidelines concerning the issue of sleep problems. They looked especially at the issue of sleep apnea. The plan was to pass federal regulations that required all railroad engineers and truck drivers to undergo a screening for the disorder. After President Trump’s election, his administration decided to focus their efforts elsewhere. All plans for screening for sleep problems went on hold.
The NTSB has stated that they find the lack of regulations concerning sleep problems to put public safety in jeopardy. The board focused on implementing stricter screening for sleep problems, including sleep apnea, for years. They have found these issues to be the cause of a number of other crashes in addition to the two recent train accidents. For example, in 2014, sleep problems were found responsible for a 2013 train crash in New York that resulted in the deaths of four passengers.
While there may not be any plans for federal regulations, some transit authorities have put their own guidelines in place for screening for sleep problems. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which oversees commuter trains in New York City, has such a policy. They screen all bus and train operators and train engineers for sleep apnea and other sleep problems. This happens before they can to drive. They offer treatment for those diagnosed with one of these sleep problems. Those with severe sleep apnea may not operate a vehicle or train if they determine that their disorder impacts their ability to function.
According to the spokesperson for the MTA, the guidelines they have implemented follow the NTSB’s recommendations. The MTA dedicated itself to pursuing this program even if there is no federal mandate to have one.
In New Jersey, the NJ Transit has also issued a statement outlining their screening protocols. According to the statement, the NTSB reviewed and acknowledged that NJ Transit does screen drivers, operators, and engineers for sleep problems. They also acknowledged that it does not allow those diagnosed with sleep apnea and other similar conditions to operate commuter vehicles.
NJ Transit has also required that a conductor ride with the engineer in the cab of all trains. This regulation began in October of 2016. That same month, new sleep limits went in place in the Atlantic City and Hoboken terminals. Those limits dropped the incoming speed from 10 mph to 5. The transit authorities are also looking at technology that could automatically reduce speed even if the engineer does not manually do so.
While the Federal Railroad Administration has yet to put a policy in place regarding sleep apnea, the NTSB continues to push for one. The board also recommended that the FRA look at the technology the NJ Transit is considering. They would like to make it mandatory for all intercity railroad terminals. This technology would ensure that all trains stop before reaching the terminal. This protects both those waiting for the train and passengers. The current bumping posts that are in use are not enough, the recommendation states.
The FRA has stated that it will review this technology, but there is no current plan to implement it. The issue of train crashes, sleep problems, and inadequate safety measures attracted the attention of Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Blumenthal has stated that he believes the Trump Administrator has made a mistake in not pursuing federal regulations requiring sleep apnea screenings. He went on to say that we need to take swift action in order to correct the safety issues the NTSB found.
Sleep problems affect many people on a daily basis. A good number of these individuals don’t even realize that they suffer from sleep apnea or a related disorder. The result is that these people are often tired and have slower reaction time. This can lead to a number of accidents across a wide variety of industries. While some industries do have screening policies in place for sleep apnea, many do not.
Are you dealing with sleep problems such as sleep apnea? If you’re tired of always feeling tired and never getting a good night’s sleep, it’s time to see an expert. A lack of sleep can lead to or negatively impact a number of health conditions. Contact Mark Levy, DDS at (614) 777-7350 to discuss solutions to your sleep problems.