“This is the type of accident that positive train control is designed to prevent,” Hersman said.
As for how to avoid micro-sleeping, a 10- to 20-minute nap or a cup of coffee can help in a pinch, suggested Kushida.
But experts agree there’s no substitute for getting good sleep.
Truck driver Alex Gordon agrees. He drives for no more than 10 hours at a time and makes sure to get enough sleep, and he says he’s never experienced highway hypnosis.
“I drive 10 hours, sleep 11,” the Miami-based Gordon said Wednesday during a break at a truck stop in Kearny, N.J. “You just can’t” put people in danger, he said.
In case of an engineer becoming incapacitated, the engineer’s cab at the front of the train was equipped with a dead man’s pedal, which must be depressed or the train will automatically slow down.
Another type of safeguard, called an alerter, sounds if the operators’ controls haven’t been moved within a certain timeframe. If an engineer does not respond, often by pressing a button, brakes automatically operate. Alerters are generally required in locomotives built after 2002.
The engineer’s cab was older and didn’t have an alerter, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said, but there was an alerter in the cab on the locomotive at the other end of the train — the engineer’s perch when the train was traveling in the other direction. The alerter works only when the engineer is using the locomotive cab.
The “push-pull” configuration, in which trains are pushed by a locomotive in one direction and pulled in the other, is common on commuter railroads, saving the time and space it would take to turn trains around.
Rockefeller, 46, has worked for the railroad for 15 years and has been an engineer for 10.
Crews are rebuilding the damaged track where Rockefeller’s train crashed. One of three tracks on the affected line reopened Wednesday, and commuters said they were grateful service was restored fairly quickly.
“We don’t get to complain,” said Elite Rubin, who does marketing for an accounting firm. “We weren’t on that train where people died.”