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Sleep apnea testing should be federally mandated to prevent more train derailments, Schumer says

The Trump administration has reversed previous efforts to mandate obstructive sleep apnea testing among locomotive engineers and truck drivers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer demands that the U.S. Department

Sen. Chuck Schumer demands that the U.S. Department of Transportation reverse its decision to derail a rule-making process that would have paved the way for required sleep apnea screening. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Following a report linking two recent train derailments in the New York region to sleep apnea, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday called for the federal government to regulate the testing of the disorder as it relates to commuter railroads.

Obstructive sleep apnea was identified last week as the probable cause of a January 2017 Long Island Rail Road derailment at Atlantic Terminal as well as a similar New Jersey Transit crash in the Hoboken Terminal several months earlier, according to a study from the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency in charge of public transportation accident investigations. One person died during the NJ Transit crash and more than 200 people were injured in both derailments combined.

Schumer seized the findings to criticize the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision in August to back away from crafting a rule that would have required testing for obstructive sleep apnea among locomotive engineers and truck drivers if a problematic symptom is observed. The senator, who had been an early advocate for the regulation, is calling on DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to reverse course on the policy.

“Today, I am asking the DOT and the secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, please wake up when it comes to the benefits of testing for sleep apnea, because if we don’t test there’s going to be more derailments, more crashes, more chaos, more injuries and, God forbid, but more deaths as well,” Schumer said at a news conference in Grand Central Terminal.

Following the two crashes, both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and NJ Transit have taken it upon themselves to screen more employees for the fatigue-inducing disorder — though Schumer believes that federal regulations for the screenings would provide a beneficial, universal policy for testing. The senator said he’s been given “no good answer” as to why the administration abandoned the rule and attributed the decision to a “mania to deregulate.”

“The White House has to be smart and careful. There may be some regulations that have outlived their usefulness, some regulations that are not cost effective but there are some that make a great deal of sense,’ Schumer said. “It doesn’t cost much for testing sleep apnea. The cost of the crashes is far greater than the cost for testing. In their mania to deregulate, they’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

Last summer the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration argued that railroads and trucking companies should decide whether to test employees and noted in their decision that programs for fatigue-management already in place are the “appropriate avenues” to address the disorder.

“FMCSA and FRA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to gather information about whether or not rulemaking was appropriate in this area and received valuable information,” a DOT representative said in a statement. “In response to the ANPRM and a series of public listening sessions on Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in 2016, sufficient data was not received to support future rulemaking and the ANPRM was withdrawn last August. The Agencies determined that current and upcoming safety programs appropriately address fatigue risks, including OSA.”