Human-Factors and Automation-Related Accidents in the Railway Industry

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Increasingly, control systems are being automated in industries that handle dangerous goods. These systems can both reduce and introduce human factors. A current example is the adoption of cab warning technologies and train control systems being deployed in the railway industry. Existing systems mainly focus on the prevention of signal passed at danger (SPAD), Overspeed, and collisions. These have evolved from simple warning of signal indications to monitoring of speed and automated braking to ensure compliance. While these systems can improve safety and efficiency, they may introduce potential weaknesses related to design and usability. The increased complexity of the systems caused by human-technology interactions can have adverse cognitive effects on the train operators. Moreover, upgrading systems over time can create a confusing array of train cab warnings and displays. These issues can lead to poor system performance and serious rail accidents in some cases. This paper reviews automation-related accidents in the railway industry, analyzes the contributing factors, and discusses the lessons learned. The reviewed accidents demonstrate that automated system failure, the complacency of the train operator, inconsistency of alarm performance with user expectations, and poor alarm design and management were common causes. Furthermore, research showed the limitations of train operators to handle alarms primarily related to workload, with their response varying greatly across individuals and situations. While underload of the train operator results in boredom, fatigue, overconfidence, and complacency, an overload results in irrational reactions, confusion, exhaustion, and loss of situational awareness. We discuss the broader implications for designing automated control systems.

  • Date created
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
    Conference/Workshop Presentation
  • DOI
  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International