LIRR engineer in Brooklyn crash to be tested for sleep apnea

Friday, January 06, 2017 06:40PM
Jim Hoffer has the latest details.

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN, New York - The MTA is moving forward on getting sleep apnea testing for engineers responsible for driving crowded commuter trains in the wake of yet another crash, this time involving a Long Island Rail Road train.

And now, there is pressure to get an automatic braking systems installed so that trains stop even if the engineers don't.

These are safety issues that keep coming up in one rail accident after another involving Metro North, New Jersey Transit, and now, the LIRR.

The engineer told investigators he has no memory of crashing his train into the wall at the Atlantic Terminal, and those investigators now say they will test the engineer for sleep apnea.

In a deadly accident in Hoboken four months ago, the engineer also claimed to not remember plowing into the terminal. Days later, he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.
And in 2013, four Metro-North passengers were killed in derailment when the engineer fell asleep. That's when the MTA decided to test every Metro-North engineer for the sleep disorder, discovering that 12-percent tested positive.

PHOTOS: LIRR train crash aftermath

"That 12 percent figure is alarmingly high," rail expert Andrew Maloney said. "It should add to the urgency to get testing done right away."

While Metro-North engineers have been screened, not a single LIRR engineer has undergone testing.

"The MTA expect to award a sleep apnea screening contract (for the LIRR) in the coming months," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

Investigators in this latest crash are also looking at whether positive train control, known as PTC, could have prevented the accident.

"If you use the end of the line as a target to stop the train, the PTC system will stop a train before reaching the end of the line," NTSB investigators Ted Turbin said.

Neither the LIRR nor Metro-North is anywhere near having positive train control, even though a 2014 MTA safety update announced they "are accelerating efforts to install PTC."

They also set a deadline to retrofit all trains by this April, but Eyewitness News has learned that only 15 of 580 LIRR trains has been upgraded and 11 of Metro-North's 561 trains has the PTC retrofit.

"They're literally putting thousands of people at risk by not implementing safety technology that could have prevent death and injury," Maloney said.

An MTA spokesman says the agency is on track to have PTC fully operational by the federal deadline of December 2018.
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