Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on regional commuter railroads to do more to improve their safety culture following the Jan. 4 derailment of a Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train that injured 103 people.
Speaking at a news conference in Penn Station Sunday, Senator Schumer called attention to the problem of sleep apnea in engineers and other railroad workers in safety-sensitive positions. Senator Schumer said sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder that disrupts nighttime sleep and causes excessive daytime drowsiness, is a critical safety issue in the commuter rail industry and was “very likely” involved in the Jan. 4 collision.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the LIRR train rolled into Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal going more than twice the maximum speed of 5 mph and hit a bumping block, which caused the front two trains to jump the tracks.
The train’s engineer, whose identity has not been released, told investigators he recalls entering the station and controlling the speed of the train. But the next thing he remembered was returning to consciousness after the collision.
The crash has striking similarities to the September crash of a New Jersey Transit commuter train inside Hoboken Terminal, which killed a woman inside the terminal and injured more than 100 others. Like the LIRR train, the New Jersey train was traveling more than twice the speed limit when it approached the terminal.
The Hoboken train’s engineer, Thomas Gallagher, also told investigators he did not remember the crash. His lawyer later revealed that Mr. Gallagher, a longtime employee of the railroad with a clean record, had undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Investigators determined that undiagnosed sleep apnea likely played a role in a derailment and crash of a Metro-North train near the Bronx’s Spuyten Duyvil station that killed four people in 2013. The engineer of that train underwent evaluation after the crash and was also found to have sleep apnea.
Sen. Schumer has called on the NTSB to conduct a national review of commuter rail safety efforts, such as the sleep apnea testing initiatives and the installation of inward-facing cameras, then publish its findings for the review of Congress, industry regulators, and the general public. The senator has also asked the NTSB to study whether sleep apnea, which affects more than 18 million Americans, is systemic within the rail industry.