5 U.S. Senators Urge Stricter Sleep Apnea Screening and Treatment For Railroad Engineers

In response to a LIRR train derailment last week.

Five Democratic U.S. Senators — Bob Menendez, Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal — wrote a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board Sunday, calling on them to “conduct a comprehensive review of all passenger railroads’ implementation of sleep apnea testing for engineers” in addition to reviewing inward-facing cameras.

The letter, which comes days after the derailment of a Long Island Rail Road train in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal, underscores the history of sleep disorders and train crashes, citing the New Jersey Transit crash last September that killed one person and injured more than 100 more. The letter highlights the necessity of stricter screening and preventative measures for treatable, but often hard to diagnose, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea: “What’s even more concerning than the slow progress railroads are making is an apparent growing trend of railroads pledging to implement sleep apnea testing only after a derailment has occurred on their system,” the letter writes.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The LIRR derailment last week is currently being investigated, with the possibility of sleep apnea as a cause. If found true, this engineer would be the third case of a train operator with sleep apnea being involved in a train derailment in three years, according to Men’s Health.

Sleep apnea is a “common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep,” says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. As a result, those suffering from sleep apnea have a poor quality of sleep and are more tired during the day. The Federal Railroad Administration first recommended sleep apnea testing in 2004, and last month called for mandatory sleep apnea screening. According to the Associated Press, “Amtrak and some commuter railroads are already testing engineers for sleep apnea,” and freight railroads provide “access to screening and treatment.”

The recent train derailment highlights how detrimental, and at times deadly, improper sleep can be, and underscores the necessity of preventative screening and care for all employees, specifically those who operate heavy machinery.