TWO WAKE-UP CALLS

1. It’s Wednesday, January 4, 2017.

At this point in a year, it takes a good deal of effort to make sure the date is correct. Eventually, the idea that it’s 2017 will become second nature.

2. The derailment of a Long Island Rail Road train in Brooklyn this morning, injuring more than 100 people, is the second such incident in the New York area in recent months. 

Like the New Jersey Transit incident in Hoboken in September, the commuter train crashed through a barrier at its final stop. Fortunately, in today’s incident, no one was killed; one person standing on the platform died in Hoboken.

We don’t know what caused today’s incident. While the cause of what happened in Hoboken is still being determined, there was an AP report in November stating that investigators are looking into the idea that the engineer had undiagnosed sleep apnea

So we have two problems to consider here. One – train safety – has to be solved by government. The other – sleeping disorders – probably needs to be something society takes more seriously.

3. Let’s start with train safety.

People who live in some of the biggest metropolitan areas – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington among them – might find this hard to believe. But most Americans have no idea what a commuter train is.

Train lines such as the Long Island Rail Road in New York, METRA in Chicago and MBTA in Boston serve thousands of people. The cities where they’re based are crippled when trains don’t run for whatever reason – system problems, labor actions or bad weather.

So we need them.

But we hate them. Most of these lines, particularly those in the East, are antiquated. The stations are often ill-equipped to handle the people who want to use them – parking is inadequate and service can be slow and uncomfortable.

If Trump is serious about infrastructure, this would be a prime target. Not only do the older lines need to be spruced up, but metropolitan areas such as Atlanta and Houston need to actually build lines. And there must be technological ways to make events like the one this morning almost impossible.

That takes money, and the people who elected Trump in places where there are no trains probably don’t care how difficult the commute is for someone in Hicksville, N.Y., or Highland Park, Ill.,  or Humble, Texas.

So here’s Trump’s dilemma. He can score points with suburbanites he needs to help him get re-elected in 2020 by making their commutes a little better. Or he can keep the outlying areas happy by not spending their money making commuter trains to Brooklyn safer.

The bonus to an overhaul of the nation’s commuter rail systems, including better trains and more safety features, is that it creates jobs. Lots of them.

In fact, that’s what President Obama had in mind with his original stimulus proposal, when the economy was in the dumps. It seems as though he got a lot of the roads he wanted – the mass transit, not so much.

This country’s infrastructure needs a lot. Not just transportation, but water and electricity are in dire need. We need to develop 21st century methods of delivery that include protection against potential terrorism. In the next few months, we’ll see how serious the self-proclaimed master builder is.

4. The other problem is sleep.

That might be the next great health crusade. We’ve gone after smoking, drugs, alcohol, sugar, soda/pop and food in general.

Again, we don’t know for sure that sleep problems caused either of the most recent train derailments in the New York area. But a sleep problem is blamed for the 2013 fatal crash of a Metro North train in the Bronx.

Sleep – or lack of it – is a special problem on the highways. The latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, from 2005, shows that about 100,000 accidents are caused by drowsy driving annually. About 1,550 deaths result.

And again, this data’s more than a decade old – given the propensity of people to stay up all night playing video games and surfing social media, could those numbers be higher in 2017?

So what might be in order this year is a campaign to get people to sleep.

And that’s going to be harder than getting them to stop anything else – smoking, drinking, junk food, whatever.

There are two kinds of people. People who love to sleep, and would sleep all day if life allowed them.

And then there’s folks like me. I hate to sleep. I’m always wondering what the hell I’m missing.

When I worked at CNN, I was lucky to get four hours a night. With my job and my family obligations and the things I really wanted to do, sleep was an impediment.

And, for the most part, I functioned.

Except that if I stayed out late at a family function or a ballgame on the weekends, I would put myself and my family at risk by being drowsy as I drove. I still rarely drink alcohol when I go somewhere – not because there’s a risk of driving while intoxicated, but because even the slightest amount might push me over the sleep edge on the highway.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. There are workaholics galore out there, and our society favors those who are awake a lot. Plus there are people who can’t put down the iPhone or laptop.

And lack of sleep doesn’t only affect driving ability. It has a great deal to do with health issues such as obesity and diabetes.

So a national campaign to get people to sleep more would be a curious thing. But it might also be a necessary thing. There are organizations – such as the National Sleep Foundation – that promote it. 

As my friends and family would note, I am an unusual advocate for sleep. But, especially seeing these train accidents and wondering about how they happened, and knowing how my body functions, I think the time is right for a real push on getting people to sleep the amount they should.

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