Rail Human Factors

A focus on humans.
Usability first in tomorrow‘s rail operations.

A comprehensive perspective in rail systems research requires an approach that does not focus solely on technology, it also considers humans as a crucial impact factor. The Institute of Transportation Systems defines the human as the starting point for its interdisciplinary research on the overall rail system. Whenever we examine the workplace of a train driver, a rail traffic manager or a control centre operator, we take into account humans with all their strengths and weaknesses. The aim is to develop innovative concepts of human-machine interaction in the railway sector.

Particular challenges are the continuous elaboration of legacy systems to incorporate new technological developments such as ETCS as well as the representation of large amounts of safety critical information in complex environments like the control centres for electronic interlocking systems (ESTW). DLR provides support to manufacturers as well as operators in the development and user-centred design of input and output media of existing and future operating systems in the railway domain. If usability is taken into account in an early stage of system development, the handling of resulting system will be more intuitive. The factor usability is also of economic relevance: a usability analysis at the outset adds little extra cost but helps to reduce training costs and expensive redesigns.

Besides usability and human centred design, automation plays an important role in our research. We are aware of the fact that automation in beneficial only up to a certain point. Tasks should only be simplified to a level where they provide adequate relief for a user. Too much automation leads to a monotonous working environment, which lowers attention and increases the risk of slips. A system must be designed in such a way as to provide optimum support to the user in difficult situations or when failures occur. User-centred system design directly contributes to a faster return to a normal operating state and reduces the occurrence of delays and connection problems.

Our research is based on three key issues:

  • Understanding the user
  • Evaluating existing systems
  • Developing and testing new concepts

We research the relevant processes of human perception and decision-making to gain an understanding of the user. We rely on usability engineering methods to evaluate existing systems. We take into account particularly ergonomics and the methods of usability engineering and testing in developing intuitive designs for future systems.

A particular advantage: by using the RailSET® simulation environment for our tests, we can carry out controllable research under realistic conditions.

Our objective: with our human-centred approach, we aim to make a valuable contribution towards user-friendly, safe and smooth rail transport of tomorrow.

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