Sleeping Drivers Caused New York, Chicago Train Crashes: NTSB

Federal safety investigators indicate that sleep deprivation was a contributing factor in two recent commuter train crashes, one of which resulted in the deaths of several passengers. 

The National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) released documents on Wednesday that conclude the driver of a New York City Metro-North train that crashed on December 1, 2013, suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea and likely fell asleep at the controls before the accident. The train took a curve too fast and derailed, killing four and injuring dozens others.

A medical report on the engineer, William Rockefeller, released by the NTSB, indicates that he underwent a sleep evaluation after the accident because he could not remember details before the crash. They found that he suffered up to 64.7 sleep arousals per hour of sleep.

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In addition to being diagnosed as having severe obstructive sleep apnea, the examining doctor noted that the driver had also been recently switched from the late night shift to the early morning shift. “Being a shift worker might have contributed to the accident,” the examining doctor noted.

A number of passengers and their families have filed wrongful death lawsuits and personal injury lawsuits against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, claiming that the accident was the result of negligence.

The NTSB also released a preliminary report on a March 24 commuter train derailment in Chicago. The accident occurred at 2:49 a.m. near O’Hare Airport. While there were numerous injuries, there were no fatalities linked to that crash.

According to the NTSB report, the train operator admitted to falling asleep as her train entered the station. She missed the signal to stop the train and awoke too late. The train slammed into the station and drove partly up an escalator.

“The operator had worked nearly 60 hours over the previous 7 days; she was working her third consecutive night shift,” the report indicates.

Damages from that crash were estimated at $9.1 million.


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