One of the critical infrastructure components in most economies across the world is the rail network. In different nations rail is responsible for ensuring that there is not complete gridlock on the roads in commuter hours, and for moving both people and freight for long distances in an as efficient manner as possible. This critical role, a number of high profile accidents and proposals for new network control philosophies and systems have led to a great upsurge in human factors rail research and applications in the past few years. This paper provides a retrospective on rail human factors research covering driving, signalling and control, maintenance, incident reporting systems, passengers and the public, planning and technical systems change. This research foundation, and also current major rail human factors programmes, are placed in the context of technology, investment, competition, cultural and safety requirements and constraints. The paper concludes with an examination of where rail human factors should and will be going into the future.
Rail human factors research has, to an extent, been the forgotten branch of transport ergonomics, at least in comparison to aviation (cockpit and air traffic control) and road driving. Good research has been carried out over the years, for instance, in Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Japan and the UK, but not to the extent—in funding programmes, numbers of researchers or publications—of other transport sectors. (Note that ergonomics and human factors are synonymous terms within many rail organisations, are for these authors also, and so will be used interchangeably within this paper.)
5 Future rail human factors research and transfer of human factors knowledge
As we have seen in this paper, we are at something of a cusp in rail human factors—in its research and its application. After something of a barren period there has been a rapid growth in initiatives in the industry, with many of the businesses involved recognising the vital role of human factors in the way they run their business. People are central, both because a large part of the rail business is to move people from place to place in an effective and affordable manner, thus meeting some of the goals of any society, but also because the reliable, safe, high quality and efficient railway of the future will depend upon the workforce together with the artefacts and systems that they use. This means that there are great opportunities for ergonomics in several areas of support, but chiefly in research to generate new knowledge, develop and transfer standards, guidance and analysis/assessment tools, and establish processes to integrate human factors within the total rail systems life cycle.