A diabetic engineer who hid an eye disease that made it hard to tell colors ran a red light and caused the 1996 crash of two New Jersey commuter trains that killed him and two others, a federal safety panel ruled Tuesday.
Engineer John DeCurtis could not tell he was running a stop signal, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
DeCurtis, 59, accelerated his eastbound NJ Transit train just before a stop signal on Feb. 9, 1996. It rammed a westbound NJ Transit train, killing DeCurtis, the other train’s engineer and a passenger.
The crash in Secaucus, N.J., injured 158 people. NTSB chairman Jim Hall said it could have been even worse with 400 people aboard the two trains.
A search of DeCurtis’ company medical records turned up a positive 1987 test for sugar in his urine, investigator Burt Simon told the board. Investigators learned from DeCurtis’ personal physician that he had been treated for diabetes for at least nine years.
The diabetes led to the deteriorating eye disease, which Simon said DeCurtis initially could compensate for with his 34 years’ experience.
“It became more difficult for the engineer to distinguish red from yellow signal lights,” Simon said.
Board member John Hammerschmidt asked why DeCurtis kept operating a train with his eye problem.
“His family said he hoped to work a few more years before retiring,” Simon said. “We believe it may have been associated with financial considerations.”
DeCurtis earned $70,000 a year as an engineer and could have been reduced to $40,000 in another position, or $25,000 if he retired on medical disability.
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