Menendez, Booker, Sires, Pascrell Slam Trump Admin for Rolling Back Rail Safety Regs that Would Have Prevented Fatal Hoboken Crash

Menendez, Booker, Sires, Pascrell Slam Trump Admin for Rolling Back Rail Safety Regs that Would Have Prevented Fatal Hoboken Crash

Lawmakers push legislation to mandate sleep apnea screenings for train operators; call for full implementation of lifesaving technologies to control train speed

HOBOKEN, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee, and Cory Booker, and Congressmen Albio Sires (N.J.-08) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) today stood steps from where a woman was killed and 110 others injured when a New Jersey Transit (NJT) train derailed at the end of the track at Hoboken Terminal to call on the Trump Administration to reverse its decision to roll back key rail safety measures that would save lives and prevent similar tragedies.   

“These irresponsible actions unnecessarily endanger the safety of those who rely upon our railways and other critical transportation infrastructure,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Trump.  “We urge you to act immediately to implement the statutorily required risk and fatigue management plans, and restart the rulemaking to curb further tragedies caused by sleep apnea.”

Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act in 2008 mandating all commuter railroads and some freight railroads develop and implement risk management plans and submit a fatigue management plan to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) every two years. Despite delays, the Obama Administration had finalized some rules pursuant to the law and was poised to implement aspects of the risk management plan requirement for commuter railroads, but the Trump Administration suspended those rules and withdrew a separate proposed rulemaking that would expand testing and treatment for sleep apnea for transportation operators. 

This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the probable cause of the September 2016 Hoboken crash was the operator’s inability to stop the train in time due to fatigue as the result of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.  Further, the NTSB determined the lack of Positive Train Control (PTC) or other technologies to automatically slow the train entering the terminal was a contributing factor.  The crash also caused more than $6 million in structural damage to Hoboken Terminal.

Sens. Menendez and Booker have introduced new legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to complete its rulemaking to improve sleep apnea testing and treatment that was abruptly reversed by Trump Administration.  Reps. Pascrell and Sires introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Operator fatigue and/or the failure to fully implement lifesaving PTC has been cited in several other recent train crashes:

  • Just this week, the NTSB quickly determined that PTC would likely have prevented an Amtrak train derailment Sunday in South Carolina that killed its engineer and a conductor.
  • In Dec. 2017, an Amtrak train traveling too fast around a curve derailed along a stretch of track near DuPont, Wash., where PTC had been installed but not yet activated, according the NTSB, killing three and injuring dozens more.
  • In Jan. 2017, just 13 weeks after the Hoboken crash, a Long Island Rail Road train traveling more than double the posted speed limit crashed into the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn injuring more than a 100 passengers.  Like Hoboken, the NTSB determined it was caused by an engineer’s undiagnosed sleep apnea and recommended federal regulators require technology to stop trains before they reach the end of their tracks.
  • In May 2015, an Amtrak train on the busy Northeast Corridor jumped the tracks in Philadelphia going 106-mph in an 80-mph zone when its operator suddenly became distracted, killing eight and injuring more than 200.  NTSB investigators determined that positive train control would have slowed the train in time and prevented the crash had it been fully implemented along the stretch of track.
  • In Dec. 2013, a Metro North train derailed traveling 82-mph in a 30-mph zone in the Bronx, N.Y., along a curve near the Spuyten Duyvil Station, killing four and injuring dozens more.  The NTSB found that the crash, caused when an operator suffering from sleep apnea became temporarily incapacitated, could have been prevented had PTC been fully implemented.

“The recent spate of rail incidents have underscored the dire need to substantially increase our investment in 21st century infrastructure that meets the needs of a modern economy and supports the deployment of life-saving technology like PTC in order to keep our infrastructure safe, accessible, and affordable for every American,” the letter continued.  “As our nation’s railroads and transit agencies, including NJ Transit, work to deploy PTC and address growing maintenance backlogs, it is imperative that they can rely on a strong federal partner that understands the need for real federal investment in our transportation infrastructure.”

All commuter and freight rail lines have until December to meet a federal deadline to fully implement PTC, but NJT is currently behind in that process due in part to steep budget cuts in previous years.  In May, NJT was awarded a $10 million federal grant to advance PTC implementation after Sens. Menendez and Booker led a delegation effort to lobby the USDOT for the critical funding.

With the President is expected to soon detail his reported $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, the lawmakers urged him to use this opportunity “to provide a real federal investment that will rebuild and modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, save lives by taking meaningful steps to prevent tragedies like Hoboken, and demonstrate your commitment to the safety of the traveling public.”

The full text of the letter follows and can be downloaded here

 

February 9, 2018

 

President Donald Trump

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Trump:

We write to you today with serious concerns about the state of our transportation infrastructure, as well as the deployment of lifesaving technology and implementation of vital safety measures on our railways. 

In its recent report on the September 2016 derailment of a New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) train in Hoboken, New Jersey, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the train engineer’s undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea was the probable cause of the accident, while the lack of Positive Train Control (PTC) or other technology was a contributing factor to the crash.  The crash killed one person, injured 110 others, and caused over $6 million in structural damage to the Hoboken Terminal when the train failed to stop at the end of the track, barreling through a station wall and partially collapsing the roof.

The recent spate of rail incidents have underscored the dire need to substantially increase our investment in 21st century infrastructure that meets the needs of a modern economy and supports the deployment of life-saving technology like PTC in order to keep our infrastructure safe, accessible, and affordable for every American.  As our nation’s railroads and transit agencies, including NJ Transit, work to deploy PTC and address growing maintenance backlogs, it is imperative that they can rely on a strong federal partner that understands the need for real federal investment in our transportation infrastructure. 

From the campaign trail to your recent State of the Union address, you have continuously promised to make a substantial investment in our critical transportation infrastructure.  Over a year ago, Senate Democrats proposed a solution to our infrastructure needs, calling for a $1 trillion federal investment that would create 15 million jobs and lead to substantial economic growth.  This plan includes $50 billion for modernizing our rail infrastructure, increasing affordability for commuters and providing safe and reliable rail service to businesses and communities across the country.

However, your Administration proposed significant cuts to existing federal transportation programs in its last budget, and has yet to release a detailed proposal on how you will make the promised $1.5 trillion investment in our infrastructure.  Based on what little information has been made available, as well as reports on leaked internal documents, it is apparent that you intend to make a relatively small federal investment in our infrastructure while shifting the financial burden to states and municipalities that are already struggling to meet the needs of their communities.  In the exchange for what little funding your plan envisions, states and cities would be forced to raise tolls and hike transit fares.  This scheme would allow your Administration to shift costs directly to our constituents while failing to support our most critical infrastructure projects that require federal dollars to move forward.  In addition, due to the inherent profit motive for any private company, your plan’s additional push for privatization of public assets would further drive up costs for New Jerseyans, who would find their daily commutes turned into a new source of corporate profits

However, funding alone is not sufficient to address the safety concerns that continue to exist under the current regulatory framework. 

Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act, Congress mandated that all commuter railroads and some freight railroads be required to develop and implement risk management plans and submit a fatigue management plan to the Federal Railroad Administration every two years.  The Obama Administration finalized rules to implement aspects of the risk management plan requirement for commuter railroads, but your Administration has suspended these rules.  Additionally, last year your Administration withdrew a separate proposed rulemaking that would expand testing and treatment for sleep apnea for transportation operators.  These irresponsible actions unnecessarily endanger the safety of those who rely upon our railways and other critical transportation infrastructure.  While we will continue to work with our colleagues to advance legislation that would require common sense testing and treatment for sleep apnea for transportation operators, we urge you to act immediately to implement the statutorily required risk and fatigue management plans, and restart the rulemaking to curb further tragedies caused by sleep apnea.

With the pending release of your infrastructure plan, you have an opportunity to provide a real federal investment that will rebuild and modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, save lives by taking meaningful steps to prevent tragedies like Hoboken, and demonstrate your commitment to the safety of the traveling public.  We hope that you will rise to the moment.

Sincerely,