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February 7, 2018 12:45 PM, EST
Sen. Blumenthal Blasts Withdrawal of Sleep Apnea Policy
Sen. Blumenthal Blumenthal by Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

The determination by federal investigators that two high-profile train collisions in New York and New Jersey were the result of undiagnosed sleep apnea prompted a member of the Senate Commerce Committee to rebuke the Trump administration’s withdrawal of a potential new policy on the sleep disorder.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Feb. 6 determined engineer fatigue due to undiagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea caused the railroad accidents in New York City in 2017, and Hoboken, N.J., two years ago.

“Undiagnosed, untreated sleep apnea has caused collisions and calamities on our railroads. It is simple common sense that railroad workers should be screened and treated for sleep apnea to ensure they’re not suffering from fatigue and can safely do their jobs, and protect the lives of all who depend on them,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security Subcommittee. “The Trump administration must immediately reverse course and implement rules on sleep apnea, and take swift action on the many safety and oversight shortcomings highlighted by NTSB’s findings.”

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D) reacted to NTSB’s findings by focusing primarily on his state’s passenger rail system.

Menendez

“It’s clear from the NTSB report that the horrible tragedy in Hoboken could have been prevented had N.J. Transit properly taken into account the inherent risks of both operator fatigue from sleep disorders and potential hazards at end-of-the-line stations,” Menendez said. “Unfortunately, N.J. Transit failed to do both and put its riders at unnecessary risk.”

One person died and 110 were injured in the Sept. 29, 2016 accident in Hoboken. There were 108 injuries in the accident on the Long Island Rail Road at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn on Jan. 4, 2017, according to NTSB reports.

NTSB recommended the Federal Railroad Administration require that intercity passenger and commuter railroads implement technology capable of stopping a train before it reaches the end of the tracks.

In 2017, trucking and rail regulators withdrew an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking information on the potential of adopting standards that would assess risks associated with transportation workers in safety sensitive positions diagnosed with apnea.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had issued the advance notice of proposed rulemaking to determine if a rulemaking was appropriate. Based on feedback that included public listening sessions, not enough data was received to support future rulemaking, according to a statement by FRA.

“The agencies determined that current and upcoming safety programs appropriately address fatigue risks, including [obstructive sleep apnea],” the agency said, adding, “FRA continues to work closely with the National Transportation Safety Board and will review their recommendations thoroughly.”