MTA rolls out sleep apnea testing system-wide

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
MTA rolls out sleep apnea testing system-wide
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Jim Hoffer has the latest details.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The MTA became the first public the first public transportation agency in the country to offer sleep apnea testing system-wide Wednesday.

The action comes more than three years after an engineer suffering from the sleep disorder crashed a speeding train at Spuyten Duyvil. Four passengers died.

The 7 On Your Side Investigators have been raising the issue of the sleep disorder since that crash.

Ten months ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the MTA would be expanding its testing of Metro North engineers to the Long Island Railroad. As of Wednesday, not a single LIRR engineer has been tested.

"It's the right thing to do to ensure the safety of the our customers, workers and the public," MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said.

The MTA Board gave the go ahead at a meeting Wednesday give contracts to four medical groups to start testing every commuter rail engineer and conductor, every subway train operator, and every bus driver for sleep apnea. That's 20,000 people who will be tested.

The approval follows a pilot program that tested all Metro North engineers following a deadly 2013 derailment that killed four and injured dozens after the engineer fell asleep.

Linda Smith survived the 2013 derailment. Her sister who was sitting next to her did not. Although glad to hear that the MTA is expanding testing of the sleep disorder, she's angry that it's taken this long to do it.

"I was floored when I heard that the LIRR hadn't tested anybody because it's the MTA and you would think the MTA would do the same for everybody," Smith said.

But as we discovered after an LIRR train crashed at a Brooklyn station earlier this month, not a single Long Island Rail Road engineer has been screened. It's something we asked the MTA Chair about shortly after the board approved more testing.

So why did it take more than three years to expand the sleep apnea program?

"We want to make sure we do it right. Could we have done it faster? Possibly," Prendergast said. "We're the first to do it. We're the first to do it at this level of commitment. There will be impacts but it's the right action to take."

Then, the MTA chair revealed that he actually had sleep apnea discovered after falling asleep while driving:

"Immediately upon being diagnosed and being treated, I saw a difference in the quality of my life," Pendergast said.

An MTA spokesman said they have no timeline for when the expanded screening will begin.

As 7 On Your Side Investigators reported, testing found that 12-percent of all Metro North engineers have the sleep disorder and are currently being treated.