On the effects of increased technology in operational train traffic – HTO presented at the Swedish Transportation Research Conference 2020

Swedish transportation researchers are provided with a meeting place at the annual conference called the Swedish Transportation Research Conference. This year it was arranged by Karlstad University, although they, due to current circumstances with the ongoing pandemic, decided to organise it as a virtual conference. It was my first time at this conference so I did not know what to expect but despite the obvious challenges with virtual conferences, a lot of people “showed up” and presented interesting pieces of their research. All related to transportation research, of course.

In my presentation, I talked about how IT has become an increasingly pervasive component of most workplaces, and how workplaces involved in operational train traffic are no exception to this. The main roles involved in operational train traffic are traffic controllers and train drivers and although their work tasks have very different characteristics, they are both highly affected by the rapid growth of railway technologies.

One example is that the drivers have developed a new driving behaviour, sometimes referred to as a “heads up, heads down” type of driving. This indicates that the drivers have to constantly shift their visual attention from the outside of the train to information presented inside the cab. The increase of available information puts higher demands on the drivers and could result in information overload. I also talked about how increased use of automatic functions in the control room of train traffic control has not always met the outcome that was hoped for. In fact, the traffic controllers are often unsure of how the technology works and tend to turn off the automation to manually take over the control.

My main messenger of yesterday’s presentation was that it is of absolute necessity that we make sure to design for actual work practices instead of the formal work descriptions. Only when we manage to do this, we can make sure to support the workers and avoid to unintentionally disrupt work practices that are of importance to the overall organisation of work.

Rebecca Cort

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