Human factors in rail operations

Human factors in rail operations

Successfully addressing human factors issues

As well as ensuring that the end user is central to the design of rail systems, we also help address human factors issues throughout ongoing operations.

We provide operational rail systems with a number of services to ensure human factors issues are fully addressed and to help clients maintain the highest possible levels of safety. Our work can range from train cab assessments to wayfinding. Examples of our work include:

Infrastructure maintenance renewals

We have worked closely with infrastructure managers and maintenance contractors to develop enhanced systems for track inspection and improve the management of safety during track works.

Level crossings

We have spent more than a decade undertaking large-scale projects on public behaviour at level crossings on behalf of the UK's Network Rail and Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB), and have frequently presented on this emotive subject at international safety and operational conferences.

Our level crossing work has focused on improving road user and pedestrian behaviour, improving communication with signalling teams during emergencies, investigation into the risks of motorists traversing user-operated level crossings (i.e. by foot) and research into vehicle-activated signs.

SPAD (signal passed at danger) risk management incident investigation

The National SPAD Focus Group (NSFG) has recommended a number of human-centred approaches to minimising the occurrence of SPADs, grouped under the following headings:

Safety critical communication

We provide advisory support to ensure the message being relayed in clearly understood. This is critical for communication between drivers and other railway staff to avoid SPADS.

Professional train driving

Route knowledge is central to ensuring that drivers are fully aware of, and understand the implications of the general characteristics of the routes over which they will drive and the specific SPAD risks. A number of aids are available for drivers to gain knowledge about the traction type and of the routes over which they be operating. We have experience in route driveability tools.

Our team provides accident and incident investigation support to Network Rail, RSSB and a number of Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and Freight Operating Companies (FOCs), having been frequently asked to provide expert testimony. From an extensive review of incident data we developed the human factors SPAD hazard checklist that has become the primary tool to examine the role of human error in SPAD risk.

Our expertise also covers the guiding principles for signal sighting, training courses for incident investigators and development of the cognitive model of driver behaviour.


We can conduct predictive assessment of passenger flow through knowledge of customer behaviours and capabilities.

Our key clients in wayfinding and passenger movement include London Underground and other transportation markets i.e. Heathrow, Manchester, Luton, London City and International airports.

Appropriate wayfinding can provide people with more confidence and encourage a crowd to move in a more positive manner. In order to understand how to successfully direct a crowd flow, we consider; why we are giving wayfinding information? Who uses that information? What information should be provided and how? Where and when should that information be given? If symbols are used we provide assurance that these are consistent with standards or those used in other existing transport systems.