The National Transportation Safety Board finally acknowledged in March of 2007 that a overtired transportation crew was the reason for a head on collision of two freight trains in Mississippi almost two years ago that killed four people. This train wreck involved the failure of a crew to comply with the stop signal. The four people killed were the two crew members on each train. The final report indicated that the crew’s attention to the signal was probably reduced by fatigue.
Chronic fatigue is a known danger in the transportation industry. The railroads have large trade organizations where they discuss safety issues and health risks to railroad workers. However, the sleepiness of train crews because of overwork has not been properly addressed by the industry. For example, the workers in question had been doing 18 months worth of 12 hour late night shifts. On the day of the crash that wrongfully killed these workers, the crew had been on its sixth overnight shift in a week. The railroad in question was the Canadian National Railroad. However, similar problems and issues arise throughout the railroad industry and this type of problem happens at Norfolk Southern, CSX and Amtrak.
Given the risks of freight cars carrying hazardous materials and Amtrak trains carrying passengers, this fatigue problem needs to be dealt with better. Unfortunately, the Federal Railroad Administration has not been given enough power or acted aggressively enough with regard to limiting railroad employee’s work schedules. For the safety of the public, one hopes that the danger of fatigued transportation crews on trains will be better addressed by the railroad employers.