I-Team: Train operators at risk for fatigue related accidents

Published: Jan. 26, 2015 at 11:34 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2015 at 12:10 AM CST
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(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)

SCOTT COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A National Transportation Safety Board report found crew member fatigue played a major role in the collision of two trains near Chaffee in 2013.

Heartland News wanted to know how often this happens and what's being done to stop it.

Years of reports and documents from the NTSB reveal crew member fatigue seen in this incident is not an isolated problem. And they say more needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.

"We're here to find out what happened, and learn from it, and keep it from happening again," NTSB investigator Robert Sumwalt said on May 25, 2013 while at the crash site.

A Missouri bridge, two vehicles, and more than 20 train cars were all causalities of the crash.

"Two trains should not be at the same place at the same time," Sumwalt said.

An NTSB report shows a Union Pacific engineer failed to follow signals that he should slow down and stop prior to colliding with a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train.

It cites fatigue from an intense work schedule as part of the reason for the failure.

"It's a rough schedule, because there is no schedule," SEMO port authority executive director Dan Overbey said.

Overbey says demand for engineers and trainmen can be overwhelming.

"It's 24/7, 365 and that really doesn't settle in until you try it."

It became so much of an issue that in 2012 the Federal Railroad Administration introduced a fatigue management plan for railroad companies to implement.

It was supposed to reduce the number of accidents tied to tired engineers.

But in early 2013, the FRA released an in-depth study into rail workers' sleep schedules.

It found of all railway workers, the trainmen and engineers, who actually drive the trains, are at highest risk for sleep deprivation.

It went on to say regulations on work hours may be not be strict enough to prevent fatigue-related accidents.

Since that report became available, the NTSB website shows it completed eight investigations into train crashes around the country.

One-quarter of those found worker fatigue and undiagnosed sleep disorders were to blame.

The derailment of a passenger train in the Bronx in which the engineer fell asleep left four dead, 61 hurt, and cost an estimated $9 million in damages.

The Scott County crash left five hurt and $11 million in damages.

It's an issue the FRA is trying to address by continuing to add new safety regulations.

"The key thing is to stay safe and first of all keep your attention going and know what's happening around you. That can be very hard," Overbey said.

That 2013 study from the FRA did find passenger train operators fared much better when it came to getting more sleep.

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