SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 16, 2013

A look at what others are saying

(Continued)

— The Republican of Springfield

A man got tired and four people died.

That, at least, appears to be what happened on Dec. 1 when a Metro-North commuter train derailed as it took a curve at 82 mph, spilling onto the banks of the Harlem River near the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx, N.Y.

The train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, met with National Transportation Safety Board investigators and detectives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City police for several hours. A union official has leaked that Rockefeller “basically nodded” while guiding the Hudson line train carrying about 150 people. This is certainly a long way from the final word on this investigation, but we don’t need a team of detectives to recognize a major flaw in the existing system.

Rockefeller came out of his daze in time to hit the brakes a few seconds before the accident. Perhaps even that last-minute act saved a few lives.

But what if an engineer suffers a fatal heart attack in similar circumstances? Would every life on that train be in jeopardy?

Any driver who has traveled a lot of miles likely identifies with the “highway hypnosis” phrase used to describe Rockefeller’s state. It’s a terrifying condition, and this should be a cautionary tale to anyone who resists pulling over when getting weary behind a wheel.

But an engineer responsible for dozens of souls has an even higher moral and professional responsibility to remain sharp. And the railroad has a duty to ensure its engineers are in proper condition for the job. Rockefeller reportedly switched from a night shift to a day shift in recent weeks, which is not an easy adjustment.

Perhaps engineers need to be held to new standards before starting the job each day. This may be an inconvenience to the many, but so is removing shoes every time we board a plane.

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