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Rick Shapiro
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FRA Calls for Mandatory Sleep Apnea Screening for Train Engineers

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In a recent announcement, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is calling for all passenger train engineers in the United States to be screened for sleep apnea. The agency also said that train engineers who have severe sleep apnea should not be allowed to operate those light rail trains until they have received treatment for the condition.

The safety advisory alert comes as a response to the September 29th crash when a New Jersey Transit train slammed into Hoboken Terminal at twice the allowed speed limit. One woman was killed in the train crash, and at least 100 more victims were injured. The engineer operating the train was later found to be suffering from sleep apnea.

People who have sleep apnea are repeatedly awakened while they sleep because their airways close and they cannot breathe. This constant sleep interruption leaves to dangerous drowsiness during what should be the person’s “awake” hours.

Although the recommendation is one that the FRA first called for in 2004, not all commuter railroads test for the disorder. However, now the FRA is drafting rules which would make the screening and treatment mandatory for all commuter railroads.

To demonstrate how widespread – and dangerous – this issue is, one New York transit authority found one in nine of their engineers suffered from sleep apnea. That company – Metro-North – was also the company involved in a 2013 deadly train crash when one of their engineers took a 30 m.p.h. corner at 82 m.p.h. and crashed. That crash killed four people. The federal investigation revealed that the engineer had fallen asleep while operating the train. He was also diagnosed with sleep apnea after the crash.

In addition to the sleep apnea screening guidelines, the FRA wants train companies to install inward-facing cameras which would record the actions of engineers in order to assist in train crash investigations. And since speed is also a dangerous issue causing many train crashes, the agency also wants train companies to be more proactive in making sure their engineers abide by these limits.

For example, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been pushing for each railroad to install positive train control systems which can override an engineer and slow down or stop a train that is traveling too fast. Although there are federal orders to make these systems mandatory, regulators keep granting the railroads’ requests to extend that date of compliance. As of today, that date has been pushed to the end of 2018.

Filing for damages as a result of injuries caused by a mass transit accident can be complicated and requires the experience of a skilled Virginia personal injury attorney. There are stringent legal rules and deadlines when it comes to filing damages for accident injuries. And in accidents where the transit company is government-owned, these requirements can be even more rigid.