Technical Reports

Understanding How Train Dispatchers Manage and Control Trains: Results of a Cognitive

  • 01
  • May
  • 2001
AUTHOR: Emilie M. Roth, Nicolas Malsch, and Jordan Multer
OFFICE: RPD
REPORT NUMBER: DOT/FRA/ORD-01/02
SUBJECT: Human Factors, Railroad Employees
KEYWORDS: Cognitive task analysis, communications, data link, decision-making, displays, railroad dispatcher,
ABSTRACT: This report documents the results of a Cognitive Task Analysis that examined how experienced railroad dispatchers manage and schedule trains in today’s environment. The objective was to understand the cognitive demands placed on railroad dispatchers and the strategies that experienced dispatchers have developed in response to those demands, as an input to guide development and design of digital communication systems and advanced information displays. A hybrid methodology was used that combined field observations at two railroad dispatch centers (one that primarily handles passenger trains and one that primarily handles freight trains) with structured interviews of experienced railroad dispatchers. The results reveal that dispatching is a cognitively demanding task. Dispatchers have developed a variety of strategies that smooth the way for trains to pass through territories safely and efficiently and satisfy the multiple demands placed on track use. These include techniques to off-load memory requirements, extract information about train movement and track activity to support anticipation and planning, take advantage of windows of opportunity to satisfy the multiple demands placed on track use, and level workload. Many of these strategies depend heavily on communication and coordination among individuals distributed across time and space.
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