New Jersey Transit pulled 44 of its train engineers from service after sleep disorder tests indicated they suffer from sleep apnea. The move followed a determination by federal investigators that a train engineer’s sleep apnea triggered a deadly 2016 New Jersey Transit crash in Hoboken.
The Associated Press reports that New Jersey Transit screened 373 of its engineers for sleep disorders. Of those, 57 were sidelined pending the results of further studies.
Ultimately, 44 of those engineers were diagnosed with sleep apnea and removed from service until they met the treatment requirements for the disorder, which diminishes the quality of sleep and leads to fatigue and possible loss of consciousness during waking hours.
The 13 others who were initially removed from service were found not to have the condition and were returned to work. All but three of those with confirmed diagnoses have returned to work, the AP reported.
The Hoboken crash occurred in September 2016 when a New Jersey Transit commuter train pulled into Hoboken Station at twice the maximum speed. The train jumped the rails and slammed into the station, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 others.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash and found that the engineer suffered from sleep apnea, and events surrounding the accident indicated the condition was likely a major factor.
The engineer told NTSB investigators he only remembered looking at his watch and the speedometer and activating the horn and bell before the train crashed into the terminal. The next thing he remembered was a “loud bang,” he told investigators.
A conductor outside the train told NTSB officials that he couldn’t see the engineer through the train window where he should have been visible, indicated the engineer had slumped over or fallen.
Besides sleep apnea screenings, New Jersey Transit took other remedial measures, including lowering the terminal speed limit from 10 mph to 5 mph and requiring a conductor to act as a second pair of eyes behind the engineer when pulling into a station.
According to the NTSB, sleep apnea has been the probable cause of 10 rail and highway accidents in the past 17 years, including a 2013 accident in New York involving a Metro-North Railroad commuter train that rounded a 30 mph corner going nearly three times the speed and derailed. That crash killed four people and injured dozens of others.