Sen. Chuck Schumer on Tuesday criticized a recent decision by two federal agencies to abandon a plan to require railroads to test train crew members for a dangerous sleep disorder.
At a morning news conference at the Mineola LIRR station, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said there was “no good reason” why the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have walked back a plan to create a rule that could have led to mandatory sleep apnea screening and treatment for rail workers and truck drivers.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Shams Tarek said Tuesday that the federal decision “does absolutely nothing to change the MTA’s commitment to sleep apnea screening and testing.”
“Safety is the top priority at the MTA and regardless of any federal requirements we’re performing sleep apnea screening across all of our agencies, covering nearly 20,000 employees,” Tarek said.
Obstructive sleep apnea in train engineers has been suspected as a contributing cause in several accidents, including a December 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx that killed four people and a NJ Transit crash in Hoboken in September that killed one woman.
“We know from just recent examples that if there had been testing for sleep apnea, there would be people alive, walking the face of the earth today who are not, unfortunately, because the engineer had sleep apnea,” Schumer said.
Schumer has also said that sleep apnea is suspected as a contributing factor in January’s LIRR train crash in Brooklyn that injured more than 100 people. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the accident, has not yet disclosed its findings.
The sleep disorder restricts a person’s breathing as they sleep, potentially resulting in excessive fatigue during waking hours.
On Friday, the FRA and FMCSA withdrew their plans to create a rule regarding sleep apnea testing, determining that “current safety programs and FRA’s rule-making addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address” the disorder.
The MTA began screening Metro-North train crews for sleep apnea after the 2013 derailment and last year announced plans to expand the program to include LIRR employees.
The NTSB, an independent federal agency tasked with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, said it was disappointed the agencies decided to scrap the “much-needed rulemaking.”
“Obstructive sleep apnea has been in the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents investigated by the NTSB in the past 17 years and obstructive sleep apnea is an issue being examined in several, ongoing, NTSB rail and highway investigations,” NTSB spokesman Christopher O’Neil said.
With The Associated Press