Regulatory News

Schumer: Expand Metro-North Sleep Apnea Pilot Program to Include LIRR Engineers

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US Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) urges the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to quickly expand its Metro-North sleep apnea evaluation pilot program to include Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) engineers.

For more than a decade, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that railroads test and treat vehicle operators for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, which was long ignored until a series of deadly, related accidents, Schumer argues. Following a 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx that killed four, the MTA began developing a pilot project to screen and treat Metro-North engineers for sleep disorders. Similarly, following a 2008 accident on the T in Boston, the New York City Transit system began screening and treating subway train operators for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Schumer says the MTA should not wait for a deadly LIRR accident to develop a comparable sleep disorder testing plan for LIRR engineers, and urged MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast to expeditiously expand screening and treatment for OSA to include LIRR engineers, in order to protect their safety and the safety of the more than 300,000 weekday passengers who put their lives in these engineers’ hands each day.

For this call-to-action announcement, Schumer was joined by Dr Michael Weinstein, director of the Winthrop Hospital Sleep Disorder Center, and Mark Epstein, chair of the LIRR Commuter Council. “A light rail crash in Boston prompted the MTA to start testing New York City’s subway engineers for dangerous sleep disorders and then, a Metro-North crash prompted the testing of Metro-North engineers; it shouldn’t take a Long Island Rail Road crash for the MTA to test and treat LIRR engineers for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea,” Schumer says in a release. “Time and again, NTSB has made common-sense recommendations that transit agencies have taken far too long to implement in a comprehensive way. There should be no delay in starting a pilot program for testing LIRR engineers who may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, which could put thousands of daily commuters at risk if undetected.”

Epstein says, “It is widely recognized that sleep disorders are an important risk factor in rail accidents throughout the country. We join with Senator Schumer in urging that the MTA expand the practice of testing and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea that is being put in place on Metro-North Railroad to the Long Island Rail Road. When a safety issue affects one branch of the MTA, it affects all branches of the MTA and all its users.”

The MTA has yet to outline any specific plan and timeline for testing LIRR’s approximately 400 engineers for sleep disorders, and Schumer said that until testing is underway, the safety of the engineers and the hundreds of thousands of daily commuters is at risk. Schumer says that with a pilot program underway for Metro-North and its similar number of engineers, there is no good reason that both programs cannot be conducted concurrently.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to Chairman and CEO of the MTA, Thomas Prendergast, appears below:

Dear Mr. Prendergast:

I write to urge you to expeditiously develop a plan to screen and treat Long Island Railroad (LIRR) engineers for obstructive sleep apnea. I commend the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for developing a pilot project to screen and treat Metro-North engineers, and I urge you to develop a similar plan for the LIRR as soon as possible.

As you well know, after the tragic Metro-North derailment in Spuyten Duyvil that killed four people and injured sixty, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that both Metro-North and the LIRR develop protocols for screening safety-sensitive employees for sleep disorders. The NTSB also recommended that Metro-North and LIRR ensure that any employees diagnosed with such a disorder, like sleep apnea, receive the treatment they need. Metro-North has already taken steps to implement new safety procedures that will screen all 410 engineers and about 20 engineers in training. This process will help keep employees healthy, passengers safe, and assist in preventing accidents like the tragic derailment in the Bronx.

It should not take another accident for MTA to heed the NTSB’s recommendations and test LIRR engineers for sleep disorders. The NTSB recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration require all railroads to screen for and treat sleep apnea more than a decade ago, after a 2001 accident in Michigan. I urge you to take steps to expand screening for sleep apnea and other disorders to LIRR engineers as soon as possible.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this time sensitive request on such a critical safety issue. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer, United States Senate