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MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Both of New York's big commuter railroads — not just the one that suffered a fatal derailment — should test their engineers for sleep apnea, the disorder blamed for the accident that killed four in 2013, Sen. Charles Schumer said Friday.
"It doesn't take an Albert Einstein to understand why engineers should be tested for sleep apnea, a disorder that makes them fall asleep on the job," Schumer said he said as commuters boarded trains at the Long Island Rail Road station in Mineola. "We cannot wait for the Long Island Rail Road to achieve its first tragedy."
The 2013 derailment on the Metro-North Railroad killed four people in the Bronx. An investigation determined it was caused by the engineer's sleepiness and his undiagnosed case of sleep apnea.
The two railroads are part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA chose a contractor last month to screen Metro-North's 410 engineers for the disorder and said the LIRR helped develop the program.
"Right now, we are rolling out a sleep apnea testing program for Metro-North locomotive engineers, the results of which will help us implement testing at LIRR and NYC Transit," the authority said in a statement. "The three agencies are working together to develop the most effective sleep apnea program."
Schumer said the National Transportation Safety Board first recommended sleep apnea testing for railroad workers in 2001 after a deadly train accident in Michigan. Seven years later, after a worker with sleep apnea was killed when two trains collided in Massachusetts, the federal board recommended that all U.S. rail agencies begin to identify operators who are at risk for sleep disorders, Schumer told reporters. He said that prompted the MTA to begin testing New York City transit workers.
Dr. Michael Weinstein, the director of the sleep disorders center at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, said people with sleep apnea "don't function at their optimum level." He said that patients usually feel tired throughout the day but that a person "can fall asleep unexpectedly."
Weinstein said workers who are treated for sleep apnea are typically treated with a mask they wear at night and "usually see significant improvement in their quality of life."
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