Why Does It Matter If Your Train Operator Has A Snoring Problem?

Image courtesy of (Frankieleon)

For most people, snoring is a minor annoyance — and usually for the loved one of the snorer. But if that snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, it could be a health issue that leaves you working through the day without a full night’s rest. That’s particularly problematic if your job involves controlling a massive train carrying hundreds of people at high speeds.

The Associated Press reports that the Federal Railroad Administration will issue a safety advisory this week — essentially a strong recommendation — emphasizing the importance of screening and treating train operators for sleep fatigue disorders like sleep apnea.

Sarah Feinberg, an administrator with FRA, says that while regulators are in the process of drafting rules that would require engineers be screened for sleep apnea in the future, railroad operators should act now.

“This is one more thing railroads can do to keep their passengers safe and the communities they’re traveling through safe,” Feinberg said.

The move comes two months after a New Jersey commuter train crashed killing one person. The driver of that train was later found to have sleep apnea.

The disorder often leads to daytime drowsiness, as suffers are repeatedly awakened in the middle of the night when their airways close and breathing stops.

“You end up with an engineer who is so fatigued they’re dosing off, they’re falling asleep in these micro bursts and they often have no memory of it, and they’re operating a locomotive at the time, so they’re putting hundreds of people in danger,” Feinberg tells the AP.

The need for screening was also supported by tests of engineers with New York’s Metro-North service which started in 2013 after a crash killed four people. Since then, the service has found sleep apnea in 51 of 438 engineers and trainees, the AP reports, noting that all of those individuals are undergoing treatment.

The in-the-works regulations would put the transit industry more in line with the aviation, where pilots with sleep apnea are prohibited from flying unless they’ve been successfully treated for the disorder.

This sort of restriction may have prevented the fatal New Jersey crash in September. The AP reports that the train’s engineer had been diagnosed with sleep apnea about a month before the crash.

While the man was cleared for duty in July, he told investigators that he had no memory of the crash, just waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab.

The AP reports that although New Jersey Transit previously tested drivers for sleep apnea, the agency has updated its policies to keep engineers from operating trains until treated.

The FRA isn’t the only group urging railroads to screen operators. Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Bob Menendez (NJ), and Chuck Schumer (NY) sent a letter to FRA last week asking it to investigate any problems in current screening procedures for the NJ Transit.

After train crash, transit regulators targeting sleep apnea [The Associated Press]

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