Ask the Expert: Martin Freer, Head of Human Factors

I sat down for a chat with Martin Freer, our Human Factors guru to discuss the role of human factors when it comes to rail.

With 30 years of experience in transport, digital human modelling and control systems, Martin runs our team answering complex human-related problems for our clients.

So can you tell me how you’ve been involved with human factors in rail so far in your career?

I’ve been involved in a huge range of projects, but at the core it’s a mixture of physical spaces, systems, and how people interact with these elements. The design of control facilities, rail station design, rail vehicle and cab design and re-signalling boxes – they all have implications on the people in the ecosystem.

Human factors involves users in design decisions.

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When it comes to human factors in the rail environment, where have you seen some of the most significant changes? 

Some of the largest changes I’ve seen are to do with signalling and control. Of course, technology means things are being revolutionised fast than ever before. First there was the move from manual to VDU-based signalling, then centralisation of signalling from line side boxes to regional centres, the introduction of ERTMS and the emerging effort to move to TMS (digital railway), of which CCD has been at the forefront.

New electrification and signalling equipment between Preston and Blackpool

If human factors is all about the human interactions, then how has it impacted those working in the rail industry? (i.e signallers, drivers)

Human factors involves users in design decisions to improve acceptance and success of new facilities and systems. It helps to get people on board with change, whether that change is a new signalling system, interface or cab design. The inclusion of ergonomics requirements helps to improve operations and control, especially in system failure recovery. Our work also helps to improve performance and the quantity and quality of trains, not to mention workplaces and workplace health.

You’ve talked about the benefits both from a usability and working environment standpoint. But what about the everyday commuter and traveller? What differences has it made to their journeys?

Human factors input has helped to make running more trains safely over existing and new infrastructure possible, which allows for increased capacity – more people on more trains. Considering the human implications in rail extends to passenger-side environments, so human factors improves station design and facilities, such as accessibility and navigation. Operational performance is improved with communications, control and CCTV, and of course safety throughout the entire rail system.

In a nutshell, human factors makes our railways and stations more efficient, safer and better designed for all users.

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There’s been a lot of change to the rail industry throughout your career. Looking forward, what’s the biggest change in the next ten years for rail?

One of the most significant changes that has begun to impact rail for some years and will continue to do so, is the implementation of TMS – the genuine automation of signalling control, as well as greater implementation of ERTMS and moving block signalling to increase track capacity

Looking further, as we have already begun to see with autonomous road vehicles, there’ll be significantly more autonomous rail vehicles. We’ll see more inventive and innovative ways to increase capacity in things like vehicle design, high speed rail and multi-modal solutions.

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6th International Human Factors Rail Conference

CCD presented three papers at the Sixth International Human Factors Rail Conference was held in London from 6-9 November 2017. The conference is the only event worldwide focusing solely on rail human factors…

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Stephanie Clarke

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