Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand are calling for an audit of railroad companies’ sleep apnea screening as the disorder is being blamed for the Long Island Railroad train crash at Atlantic Terminal on Wednesday.
In a letter released Sunday, Schumer demanded federal transportation authorities provide a report of which railroad systems are actually testing their engineers for sleep apnea, a mandate he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo made in 2015. Schumer also called for increased safety reviews and the installation of inward facing cameras on MTA and New Jersey Transit trains.
“For years the NTSB has recommended sleep apnea testing, comprehensive fatigue risk management programs, and inward facing cameras and recently the Federal Railroad Administration, the key regulatory agency on this issue, took the important step of issuing Safety Advisories on both of these issues as well,” the letter states.
The MTA had announced in April 2015 that it would institute sleep apnea testing at Metro North and its other agencies, including the LIRR.
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep, and can result in poor rest. The required testing assesses an engineer’s risk for sleep apnea by physical traits and can recommend further sleep tests for those deemed susceptible.
The National Transportation Safety Board had recommended the screening program after the 2013 Metro North Hudson Line derailment in the Bronx and the NJ Transit train crash at Hoboken Terminal in September were both attributed to undiagnosed sleep apnea.
An initial investigation of the LIRR incident on Jan. 4 found that the train was going more than 10 mph, over twice the speed limit for a train coming to a stop. More than 100 people were injured, and no people were killed, during the minor train derailment.
The engineer, identified by the Daily News as Michael Bakalo, who has been with the LIRR for 18 years and has sued the company twice for safety concerns, said he is “unable to recall” striking the bumper and wall at the station.
Three crashes in four years
Jan. 4, 2017: Long Island Rail Road, Brooklyn crash
Erratic speeds ranging from 2 mph to 15 mph in the moments leading to the impact of the train into the bumper at Atlantic Terminal was attributed to the operator's sleep apnea.
Sept. 29, 2016: New Jersey Transit Hoboken crash
The company had previously allowed people with sleep disorders to operate their trains but changed their policy in October after Thomas Gallagher's undiagnosed sleep apnea was cited for the crash at Hoboken Terminal that killed one and injured more than 100.
Dec. 1, 2013: Metro-North, Spuyten Duyvil crash
A severe derailment in the Bronx that killed four, injured 69 and nearly sank the commuter train in the Hudson River was attributed to engineer William Rockefeller's severe sleep apnea.