Washington — The engineer of the Metro-North train that derailed in the Bronx in December suffered from severe sleep apnea, according to preliminary reports made public Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crash left four dead and dozens injured.
The NTSB’s “Medical Factual Report” said that in a series of physicals that began in 1999, engineer William Rockefeller consistently denied he had sleep problems. The doctors who examined Rockefeller were most concerned about a steady weight gain.
A few weeks after the accident, Rockefeller was evaluated by a board-certified sleep medicine physician and subjected to a sleep study, the NTSB said.
The result of the testing was the diagnosis of “severe obstructive sleep apnea.” Investigators also noted that Rockefeller’s work hours had recently changed from late night to early morning shifts.
Apnea is a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and start, interfering with the sleep cycle and often resulting in fatigue.
In a joint statement Monday, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, “It is almost surreal that someone with this ailment could be in charge of a train with hundreds of passengers on board. The tragic outcome should haunt Metro-North officials.”
The senators also urged the Federal Railroad Administration to implement recommendations they developed in 2012 dealing with worker fatigue issue and, specifically, sleep apnea.
The NTSB report said a sleep study was ordered because Rockefeller “did not exactly recall events leading up to the accident.”
Shortly after the accident, Rockefeller told a union official he had “nodded off” just before the derailment.
The NTSB has recommended certain safety measures, including more speed limit signs and automatic speed reduction technology. The agency also recommended the installation of cameras in all railroad cars.
The NTSB is slated to complete its investigation of the derailment, and a series of other recent accidents involving Metro-North, in the fall.