NJ Transit barring engineers with sleep apnea until condition is treated

Federal regulators are warning railroad agencies nationwide to watch out for sleep apnea in train engineers.

It comes after learning last week that the engineer in the fatal Hoboken train crash has the condition.

The Federal Railroad Administration says it will issue a safety advisory this week for all railroads to screen and treat workers with sleep apnea.

NJ Transit already tests its employees, but it's changing when those diagnosed can get back to work.

"It is concerning about sleep apnea, a hidden monster I guess," says Alejandro Herrera, of Hoboken.

The federal agency governing the nation's rail systems is urging all railroads to test their operators for the sleep disorder, which causes disruptive sleep and often leads to dangerous daytime drowsiness.

"The jobs typically require person to be alert and good attention spans and make decisions at short moment," says Dr. Vipin Garg, a sleep disorder specialist at the Trinitas Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center in Elizabeth. "The jobs they do a lot of people's lives are at stake so important to be screened for it."

The center already works with NJ Transit to test and treat employees. Garg applauds the federal advisory and a recent move by New Jersey Transit to prevent diagnosed engineers from operating trains until they are fully treated.

He also hopes all the attention on this common condition leads to safer roads and rails, as well as better diagnosis and treatment for anyone suffering, no matter their job.

"Sleep apnea, even though it has bad consequences with health and not being able to stay awake and accidents, but it is treatable," says Garg.

Airline pilots can't fly until they are fully treated for sleep apnea, and there is a push to require bus and truck drivers to be tested.

The NTSB is still investigating the crash, and has not released an exact cause.

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