HOBOKEN– According to a press release from the National Transit Safety Board (NTSB), the board determined that the fatal Sept. 29, 2016 Hoboken train crash as well as a Jan. 4, 2017 Brooklyn crash were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea.
The NTSB found the two accidents had “almost identical” probable causes and safety issues. The board also determined that these safety issues were not unique to these two properties, but exist throughout the country at many intercity passenger and commuter passenger train terminals.
Last August the NTSB issued a statement expressing its “disappointment” with the withdrawal of a Notice of Proposed Rule Making by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which would have considered “regulatory action to ensure consistency in addressing the risk of OSA [obstructive sleep apnea] among transportation workers with safety sensitive duties.”
“The traveling public deserves alert operators,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “That is not too much to ask.”
“When operating a train into a terminating track, the engineer’s actions, or lack thereof, solely determine whether the train stops before the end of the track,” states the release. “According to the FRA there are currently no mechanisms installed in the U.S. that will automatically stop a train at the end of the track if the engineer is incapacitated, inattentive or disengaged. Some railroads have overspeed capabilities, including New Jersey Transit and the LIRR. However, as shown in these two accidents, once the engineer slowed the train to the prescribed speed, the system did not stop the trains before they reached the end of the track.”
The release states that the safety board not only recommends screening for obstructive sleep apnea they also recommended the use of technology, such as positive train control, in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations.
The NTSB made two recommendations to New Jersey Transit, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the parent company of the Long Island Rail Road) and two to the Federal Railroad Administration.
“Today’s new recommendations, if acted upon, have the potential to eliminate end-of-track collisions,’’ Sumwalt said. “That translates to protection for passengers on trains, and for people standing on terminal platforms.”
The complete accident report will be available in several weeks. The findings, probable cause, safety recommendations, Sumwalt’s prepared remarks, and PowerPoint presentations used in today’s board meeting are all available at URL https://go.usa.gov/xnscj.
The New Jersey Transit Hoboken accident docket, containing more than 1,100 pages of supporting factual material, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xnAGJ.
To read past stories in the Hoboken Reporter, check out hudsonreporter.com