Eyes Wide Shut – Part 2: The fight against Fatigue

In this final part, I plan to dissect the information from the last post and offer solutions to fighting Micro-sleep/Fatigue whilst on the job later in this post.

A recap on the facts established:

– The Driver had fallen asleep before entering the station and woke up just before the train hit the buffer stop
– The eight-car train eventually smashed into the buffer stop, launching the train onto the platform
– The train was braking
– The Driver was hired by the Chicago Transit Authority in April 2013, but had qualified as a Driver just 60 days before the crash
– She admitted to investigators that she had “dozed” off in February, too, and missed a station during that snooze. She was admonished for that lapse at the time
– The driver had a constantly changing schedule and had most recently worked Saturday night. On Sunday night, she had overslept and was late for her overnight shift.
– She was in the fourth of five round-trips to O’Hare when the crash occurred
– The train was traveling the correct speed as it approached the station

Just for completeness and to give an update to the article, unfortunately for the Driver, she was payed off. For obvious reasons, incidents like this are seen in a very serious light and one cannot gamble with people’s lives.

The preliminary report can be read at: http://www.progressiverailroading.com/federal_legislation_regulation/article/NTSB-issues-preliminary-report-on-CTA-derailment-at-OHare–40051?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

Video footage of the crash can be seen here: http://youtu.be/TFiN3m64LnQ


Upon reading a few articles, there were a few points that stood out for me:

– The Driver fell asleep before entering the platform and woke up before hitting the buffer stop
– The Driver experienced falling asleep at the controls on a previous occasion and was admonished
– The fact her shifts were constantly changing and that, on the Sunday evening, she had overslept and was late for work
– She was on the penultimate trip of her shift when the accident happened
– The train was traveling at the correct speed when entering the platform

Now, let it be known that every Driver or train crew is expected to fall asleep, that is why they installed a Device called a Dead Man’s Handle/Vigilance Pedal/Alerter Switch or now-a-days and at the Golden Railway – Driver Safety Device (DSD).

Many things can lull you to sleep – the throbbing of an engine, the air-conditioner blowing, mast poles flying by and heat in the Driving Cab to name a few. If you don’t rest properly before a shift, the problem is exacerbated.

The fact she overslept and was late for work might not have caused her to doze, but it certainly added to loss of concentration which is a major factor in these incidents as she might not have slept but rather became preoccupied with whatever disciplinary action the company might have taken against her. The fact that she was on the second last trip for her shift is another factor – excited to get home or even the thought of the report she may have to write on why she was late. A case of thinking the wrong stuff at the wrong time.

You may be asking how a small thought could cause such an incident. For those that are not Train Drivers reading this, remember, driving a train is quite different from driving your car – it takes a moment to lose concentration for a problem to occur. While you can quickly swerve with your car or slam on the brakes, it simply doesn’t work like that with a train – react too late and you may well miss your stopping point.

Dehydration and lack of movement (sitting in one space all the time) are factors that can cause drowsiness. One way for a driver to combat these is, firstly, to always carry something to drink – especially ice cold water (Trust me, I’m no fan of water myself!). If there is a certain time that you know you will get drowsy, drinking strong coffee at least two hours before the time will help. Remember that there is such a thing as voluntary dehydration, explained in the image below. As a Driver, you may sit in the driving seat for long periods of time – if feeling drowsy during the trip, just stand up and stretch in place (as you know, you’ll need to keep your foot on the DSD. If it’s a Dead Man’s Handle, you’ll need to keep at least one hand pressing down and stretch with the other arm and then swap) and sit down again. On the Golden Railway, a good practice is for Drivers to step out onto the platform, checking the signal and waiting for the Conductor’s Radio Call. Fresh air is better than air-conditioned air. If you work on a train that’s not air-conditioned – an open window is the best solution.

It is imperative to wear correct eyewear which makes the sun’s glare easier on the eye muscles.

Sitting up straight instead of reclining while driving, helps your body know it’s not time to relax.

Commentary Driving/Risk Triggered Commentary driving can be employed, but be careful, as over use can also be distracting (More on this in a later blog post).


Images from East Coast Railway’s Summer Weather PDF

These were just a few solutions, since a Train Driver is just a human after all and cannot maintain 100% concentration – it is important though to identify critical times when you should be giving 100%.


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