Rail Crash Engineer Had Sleep Woes, Felt Dazed

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -
Metro North Railroad engineer William Rockefeller is wheeled away from the commuter train in the Bronx last December. (AP Photo/Robert Stolarik)
Metro North Railroad engineer William Rockefeller is wheeled away from the commuter train in the Bronx last December. (AP Photo/Robert Stolarik)

The engineer driving a speeding commuter train that derailed in the Bronx last year

killing four people had a sleep disorder that interrupted his rest dozens of times each night and said he felt strangely “dazed” right before the crash, according to federal documents released Monday.

Asked if he was clearheaded enough to realize he was entering a curve just before the Dec. 1 derailment in the Bronx, engineer William Rockefeller told investigators “apparently not.”

The train hit the curve, which has a 30 mph speed limit, at 82 mph. The National Transportation Safety Board released medical reports, interview transcripts and other documents but said its analysis of the information and any determination of the cause would come later.

A study found that while Rockefeller slept, he had about 65 “sleep arousals” per hour. Scientists say as few as five interruptions an hour can make someone chronically sleepy.

In his NTSB interview, two days after the accident, Rockefeller did not describe himself as sleepy. He said his run from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan was without incident until a strange feeling came over him.

“It was sort of like I was dazed, you know, looking straight ahead, almost like mesmerized,” he said. He compared it to driving a car and staring at the taillights ahead.

“You get almost like that hypnotic feeling,” he said.

The engineer said he couldn’t be sure when the dazed feeling began, but he remembered seeing the Riverdale station, just before the Spuyten Duyvil station where the derailment occurred.

He said he was roused only when he sensed that “something wasn’t right” with the train and instinctively shut it off or threw it into emergency braking.