Clapham Junction lever frame close up
Northern line control desk
Connect hand portable
Trackside Loop Feed Box

Automation in Railway Control - Avoiding a Bridge too Far

Date: Wednesday, 14 October 2020 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm
Venue: Virtual meeting, details to be advised
Speakers: Daniel Woodland (Dr.), Eylem Thron (Dr.)
Registration: Not Open / Closed

In a Railway context, Automation could range from a basic function, such as warning of a detected failure, to a full-fledged automated system, such as driverless trains and un-staffed control. Automation, whether in the control centre, on a station or on trains, offers many attractions for a railway operation. However, along with these advantages come potentially significant drawbacks if we get the 'level' of automation wrong, programme the automation with parameters that turn out not to meet the real need, or the 'automation' goes wrong. In order to ensure that these concerns are addressed, it is essential that all aspects of the Human Machine Interface are thought about during early stages of design and that sufficient analysis is done early on to understand their impact on system function and performance - ideally with early engagement of the Rail Operators to clarify expectations and define how the railway should be run and operated. Over reliance or undue faith in automation systems could lead to disruption to smooth operation of the railway service and, in the worst cases, to unsafe conditions and accidents. Indeed there are examples in the past where this has happened, such as the Washington DC Metro collision at Shady Grove in January 1996, and the 2013 derailment in Santiago, Spain. Such examples highlight a weakness in human nature, where complacency can creep in when functions and activities get 'too' automated and we have a tendency to 'learn' to over-rely on their expected performance. So when it comes to the rarely discussed topic of Automation in control centre systems, should we resist increases in automation, or should we be pushing for more?

This presentation is an updated and expanded version of one given to the 2015 IRSE ASPECT conference.


Dr Daniel Woodland

Daniel is an engineer and manager with over 25 years' experience in the railway industry, specialising in signalling, interlocking, control, CBTC ERTMS systems. His skills encompass engineering management; assurance and 'Intelligent Client' activities; system specification and tender assessment; ATP system development (particularly operational, signalling and system design principles, including GOA2 and GOA4 systems); system integration; training, development and education. Daniel is a Principal Consultant with Ricardo Rail, President of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at University of Birmingham.

Dr Eylem Thron

Eylem is a Senior Human Factors Consultant at Ricardo with 12+ years' experience in the application of human factors (HF) and design expertise within the rail, highways, aerospace & defence industries. She provides HF support across the concept, design, and implementation phases of projects and application of persons with reduced mobility (PRM) design principles to rolling stock and infrastructure. She is a visiting fellow in HF at University of Bournemouth, with an interest in cyber security issues in the rail sector. Her experience includes Human Machine Interface (HMI) and Human Computer Interface (HCI) design and assessment, HF guidance and design of National Traffic Information System (NTIS) and design and development of next generation user interfaces for armed forces (land and air). She has a BEng in Computer Systems Engineering and PhD in Engineering (Image Processing, HCI) from University of Kent and an MSc in Human Factors (Ergonomics) from Loughborough University.