Dozens of NJ Transit engineers diagnosed with sleep apnea; most back on the job
NEWARK — NJ Transit tested 373 of its locomotive engineers this year and found that more than three dozen needed treatment for sleep apnea.
Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said 57 tested positive and were taken out of service pending a sleep study. A pulmonologist determined 44 required treatment and did not return to work until they met compliance requirements, while 13 were deemed not to have sleep apnea.
All but two engineers have returned to their jobs.
The issue of sleep apnea came up after engineer Thomas Gallagher was diagnosed following last September's Hoboken Terminal crash, which killed a woman and injured 100.
Sleep apnea sufferers are repeatedly awakened as their airways close and their breathing stops, leading to dangerous daytime drowsiness. Treatments include wearing pressurized breathing masks, oral appliances or nasal strips to force airways open while sleeping. Some severe cases require surgery.
Gallagher, a NJ Transit engineer for about 18 years, told investigators he had no memory of the crash and only remembered waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab. He was pulled from the wreckage, treated at a hospital and released.
The throttle on the train went from idle to the fourth position at about half-power 38 seconds before impact. The speed then increased to 21 mph, according to investigators. The throttle went back to idle and Gallagher hit the emergency brake about a second before crashing into a bumper at the end of the track.
The agency has screened engineers and other employees in safety-sensitive positions for sleep apnea since 2005. After the Hoboken crash, NJ Transit began testing engineers and conductors who showed signs of potential fatigue symptoms. Eleven operators were taken out of service last October.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.