The Federal Railroad Administration has announced it will not push forward with mandatory testing for a sleep disorder that has been linked to two deadly train derailments in the New York City area in the last few years.
The FRA’s decision has drawn backlash because sleep apnea has been blamed for the 2013 train crash in Spuyten Duyvil that killed four people and may also be connected with a crash in New Jersey that killed a woman.
Nancy Montgomery’s husband, Jim Lovell, was one of four people killed in that 2013 crash when a Metro-North train going 82 miles per hour around a 30 mile per hour curve derailed, a crash that has been blamed on operator William Rockefeller’s undiagnosed sleep apnea. The railroad has subsequently started testing for sleep apnea, but in other parts of the country that may not be the case.
“They can’t do the simple things like protect the people they are carrying and protect their workers,” Montgomery said. “It’s the little guy that’s getting killed. They’ve just taken away the test that could have saved my husband’s life.”
Sleep apnea could have played a roll in the Hoboken crash last year that killed a young mother. An NJ Transit train operator was diagnosed with the sleep disorder after that crash.
The agency, along with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, says current programs and rules already in place are enough. They will rely on railroad and trucking companies to voluntarily conduct the tests.
David Schanoes, deputy chief of OPS for Metro-North, says that method has been effective in some cases, but not in others.
Metro-North, LIRR and NJ Transit all claim to conduct sleep apnea testing on train operators, but Schanoes said lack of a mandate means little to no transparency.
“It would be a very effective regulation and would save a lot of lives,” he said.