Technical Reports

Impact of Data Link Technology on Railroad Dispatching Operations

  • 01
  • Oct
  • 2004
AUTHOR: Nicolas Malsch, Thomas Sheridan, and Jordan Multer
OFFICE: RPD
REPORT NUMBER: DOT/FRA/ORD-04/11
KEYWORDS: cognitive task analysis, radio communications, data link, decision-making, displays, intelligent railroad
ABSTRACT: This study examined data link communication as an alternative channel to voice radio for railroad dispatchers. The goal was to compare how data link affected performance compared to voice radio only communications on measures related to safety, productivity, communication efficiency, and situation awareness. A data link system with two addressing options was compared to radio. The discrete message capability enabled the dispatcher to send a message to one individual at a time. The broadcast message capability enabled the dispatcher to send a single message to multiple recipients. The experiment was run on a human-in-the-loop railroad dispatcher simulator. Overall, data link proved superior to the voice radio environment, in terms of safety. Safety of maintenance workers was improved by both data link systems while train safety was improved only for broadcast messages. No increase in dispatching productivity (train and track maintenance) was observed with data link. For communication efficiency, the results depended upon message complexity. Dispatchers spent less time exchanging simple messages with voice radio. Conversely, dispatchers exchanged complex messages more quickly in the data link environment. The differences in communication efficiency as a function of message complexity can be attributed to the type of interface: visual or auditory.

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