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Engineer of derailed Metro-North train had sleep apnea, NTSB says

WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday opened a public docket on the December 1, 2013 Metro-North train wreck in the Bronx that killed four people and injured 59 others.

The NTSB docket includes crew interview transcripts, engineer medical information, rules compliance testing records, and track inspection and signal records. 

Among the medical findings for the train engineer, William Rockefeller, was that he suffered from “severe obstructive sleep apnea.” That diagnosis was determined after the accident. No screening or evaluation for this diagnosis was performed before the incident, the NTSB report said. 

It was also determined that he had hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, low testosterone, Vitamin D and B12 deficiencies, and mild high frequency loss.  The report also said he was obese and his glucose levels and Hemoglobin A1C were “persistently elevated although not diagnostic of diabetes.”

In light of the information released in the docket, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D, NY18), called for the adoption of NTSB safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration on fatigue for on-duty train crews.

“Whenever you rely on human beings being perfect, you are going to put lives at risk, which is why we need redundant automated safety systems like positive train control – the bill I am pushing would create financing for that – so that when a human being fails, the train doesn’t, the train will stop instead of careening off the track,” Maloney said.

US Senators Charles Schumer (D, NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D, CT) issued a joint statement about the NTSB findings said it is “almost surreal that someone with this ailment could be in charge of a train with hundreds of passengers on board.”  They called on the Federal Railway Administration to “begin the rulemaking process for NTSB’s medical certification regulations for employees in safety-sensitive positions that include, at a minimum, a complete medical history that includes specific screening for sleep disorders.”