Briella TomassettiFeb 6, 2018, 10:33 pmFeb 7, 2018, 2:28 pm

New York-area rail crashes blamed on lack of apnea testing

Inadequate screening, treatment 'led to worker impairment, collisions involving tens of millions of dollars in damage, and loss of life'

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GREAT NECK — A lack of adequate testing for a pernicious sleep disorder was the primary cause of two serious train crashes in New Jersey and New York, federal investigators concluded in a report Tuesday as they renewed the call for the testing to be mandatory.

The crashes involving a New Jersey Transit train at the Hoboken terminal in September 2016 and a Long Island Rail Road train in Brooklyn in January 2017 killed one person, injured more than 200 people, and caused more than $11 million in damage.

In both instances, the train engineers were found to have suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, a condition connected to obesity that robs sufferers of sleep and contributes to daytime drowsiness.

The NTSB blamed New Jersey Transit for not following its sleep apnea guidelines and blamed the Long Island Rail Road for not having testing in place before the accidents. It also blamed the Federal Railroad Administration for not making sleep apnea testing mandatory. The NTSB also faulted both railroads for not considering end-of-track accidents as a potential hazard despite similar — albeit far less serious — incidents over the previous 10 years.

Last year, the FRA abandoned plans to require the testing as part of President Donald Trump's effort to reduce federal regulations, instead leaving it up to individual rail operators. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, both Democrats, countered the Republican president's move by introducing legislation that would force the testing to be mandatory.

In the Brooklyn and Hoboken crashes, neither engineer could remember his train accelerating as it approached the station and smashed into the end of the tracks. In the Hoboken crash, a woman standing on the platform was killed by falling debris.

"The public deserves alert operators. That's not too much to ask," National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said Tuesday.

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