Sleep apnea on the railroads became a big issue in recent months with drowsiness linked to a spate of serious train accidents.
Now federal regulators have ruled a fatigued engineer and a conductor fell asleep just before a fatal collision between two Union Pacific trains in Arkansas.
A report in USA Today noted the crash that occurred on Aug. 17, 2014 in Hoxie could have been prevented by an automatic braking system that has been stalled in Congress.
Railroads missed a number of deadlines for the technology. After a 2008 passenger-train crash in California, lawmakers ordered all railroads to install an automatic-braking system by the end of 2015. The costs led to delays.
They are required to install Automatic Train Control (ATC) by 2018.
Christopher Hart, the board chairman, stated:
“Human operators can be fatigued, impaired, distracted or medically unfit, and they can make errors even on their best days …This technological safety net is indispensable.”
The collision derailed 55 cars and a diesel-fuel spill and a tank car leaking alcohol caught fire. About 500 people were evacuated within 1.5 miles of the crash.
The Arkansas collision derailed 55 cars. It caused a serious diesel-fuel spill and a tank car leaking alcohol caught fire. About 500 people were evacuated within 1.5 miles of the crash zone.
The wreck occurred when a southbound train hit a northbound train as it turned onto an adjacent track. Investigators said the train that was heading south passed through two yellow warning lights and a red signal. There was no sign of the train slowing down and no sign of activity in its cab.
Investigators found no fault with northbound crew members, who were not given any time to apply brakes before the collision. The crew members were seriously injured, but survived the crash.
The southbound train was equipped with an automated alarm that should have sounded and given a visual warning. However, it failed to sound. The safety board previously issued warnings to the Federal Railroad Administration about a glitch in the automated warning system.
Two crew members died on the southbound train. The board concluded they were fatigued and probably asleep.
The USA Today report said the engineer suffered moderate sleep apnea which was diagnosed in 2010. Union Pacific didn’t require him to report his condition. The conductor worked irregular shifts that could have left him fatigued.
The Role of Sleep Apnea in Railroad Accidents
Over recent years rail accidents caused by drowsiness have prompted a change in how railroads treat sleep apnea.
As long ago as 2001 sleep apnea issues were reported among train crews in an accident in Clarkston in Michigan. Sleep apnea is a condition in which airways are obstructed, causing a lack of sleep.
It was a factor in a wreck in Red Oak in Iowa in 2011 and Chaffe, MO in 2013.
William Rockefeller, a Metro-North engineer who is accused of falling asleep at the wheel and causing a crash that killed four passengers in New York’s Bronx in 2013 has sued his former employed for $10 million. He claims the train should have had an automatic braking system that moderated its speed.
Investigators found the engineer of a New Jersey train that crashed into a station in 2016 killing one woman on the platform and injuring scores more, had undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers represent people who have been injured in train crashes and the families of those who died across the country. Please call us at (866) 455-6657 for a free consultation.