Well established in aviation, Crew Resource Management or CRM has found a place in the railway sector. SCT’s Mario Pierobon reports.

Crew Resource Management (CRM) is an established set of principles and best practices to get the most out of the work of a team of people with a common goal. It focusses on aspects such as leadership, followership, communication, situational awareness, and decision making. In the aviation industry it is commonly taught to all crew members and it is fully embedded as a set of working principles of air operations. In more recent times CRM has made its way in the railway industry, where team performance is equally important, the railway industry specific version of CRM is often referred to as rail resource management (RRM).

CRM began in the aviation industry in the late 1970s after a series of serious accidents, most notably the Tenerife airport disaster, which the investigations found to have been caused by an ineffective management of available resources within the flight crew compartment. It has since been employed widely in the aviation industry and over this period has been recognised to contribute to a reduction in human factor related safety events. According to the ‘Guidelines for Rail Resource Management’ endorsed by Australia’s Rail Safety Regulators’ Panel (RSSP), the philosophy and training approach used in CRM has since become the accepted model for developing applied human factors skills amongst frontline operators in many high-risk industries.

“Military teams, commercial shipping crews, surgical teams, nuclear power operators, and offshore drilling crews have all since employed forms of CRM training to address relative increases in human factors accidents compared to mechanical- or equipment-based accident causes,” notes a report on railway CRM issued by the US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Reducing Human Error

According to the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), CRM can be defined as a management system which makes optimum use of all available resources (equipment, procedures and people) to promote safety and enhance efficiency. “The basic principles of CRM such as interpersonal communication, leadership, situational awareness, problem solving, decision making and teamwork which are known to improve aviation safety in the cockpit of an airliner are also applicable to railways,” says the ERA.

According to the FRA’s CRM report, accidents having primarily human factors causes constitute the largest category of train accidents of all train accidents. “Not only has the percentage of human factors-caused accidents increased, but the severity of these accidents has also increased,” the FRA observes. “Although the application of improved track technologies (e.g. new track steels, new attachment methods, etc.) to decrease a specific mechanical accident causal factor have continued to be effective, the rate of human factors-caused accidents is not decreasing at a similar rate - instead it has remained relatively stable. This has resulted in human factors-caused accidents becoming the largest single cause category while mechanical causes have continued to decrease.”

Because of its focus on the prevention of human error, CRM training is now developing critical mass in the railway industry as a safety performance improvement initiative. “Unlike aviation, however, training on CRM (or rail resource management – RRM) is not regulated in the rail sector at the moment,” says ERA.

RRM is the generic name that is commonly given to the versions of CRM training being developed for the railway industry. “Organisations implementing RRM may well choose to adopt their own ‘brand name’ for the in-house programmes,” affirms Australia’s RSSP.

The aim of RRM is to reduce rail safety occurrences attributable to human error, through the introduction of applied human factors training, thereby preventing harm to rail employees and passengers, and increasing public confidence in rail transport systems, according to the RSSP.

“Rail safety workers face the same challenges as front-line operators in other hazardous industries – to ensure safety in a dynamic, demanding operational environment by managing threats and errors effectively. Although rail workers are provided with good technical and procedural training, there has been comparatively little focus on the non-technical skills that enable groups such as drivers, guards, train controllers, signallers and around/on the track personnel to work safely,” says the RSSP.

Complex Team Interactions

If one follows strictly the definition of the concept, RRM is applicable to all those who work in a team setting in a railway operator, however, according to the RSSP, from a practical standpoint some rail safety workers are exposed to greater hazards in their daily work than others, and some have greater capacity than others to influence accidents or safety incidents, through their action or inaction.

When implementing RRM it would therefore be both logical and practical to begin RRM with core safety personnel, and to progressively extend it to other groups.

“This issue should be decided by each accredited rail organisation (ARO) during the process of developing a learning strategy, determining particular training needs and prioritising target groups for RRM in their own organisation,” says the RSSP. “It should not be assumed however that ‘front line’ workers such as train drivers or controllers are the only ones who will benefit substantially from RRM training. For example, it is likely that rolling stock and infrastructure maintenance workers will derive significant benefits from completing RRM training.”

According to the RSSP, the work ‘team’ is not always well defined in the railway industry where there is often a complex variety interactions among individuals. “These range in nature from common, routine interactions with ‘known’ colleagues, through to infrequent, yet safety-critical communications with remote third parties never previously encountered. For the purposes of RRM, all such events can be described as involving a team functioning,” says the RSSP.

It is possible to define two main team types in the rail industry. The first type includes those situations where team members are for the most part physically co-located and where they are able to interact face-to-face, for example a group of track workers. The second type includes those situations where members are located remotely from one another, and are working towards a common goal, but whose shared understanding of the environment is communicated indirectly (e.g. via radio, signals etc.). Examples would include a driver, signaller and train controller working together to move a train safely from ‘A’ to ‘B’, or a driver, signaller and protection officer working together to maintain the safety of a work gang on track, according to the RSSP.

From Pilots to Train Drivers

One way of maximising the effectiveness of RRM is the application of its principles in the simulator environment. According to the FRA’s rail CRM report, the use of rail simulators to train an engineer and conductor as a crew is effective for teaching and reinforcing CRM skills.

“Training in this manner would add to the realism of the simulation and make it a forum where CRM skills can be practiced by participants and observed by the instructor. Interaction with other associated crafts can also be a part of such crew-based simulator use,” observes the FRA. “For example, the use of CRM principles in the crew’s communications with a dispatcher can be evaluated if the instructor takes on the role of the dispatcher in providing input to the crew. Alternatively, an actual dispatcher or dispatcher trainee could be included in a simulator-training scenario that would evaluate both the crew (e.g. engineer and conductor) and the dispatcher. CRM behaviours and skills could be included as part of the evaluation and debriefed by the instructor at the end of each training exercise.”

One particular RRM simulation example brought forth by the RSSP is that of Queensland Rail Passenger Services which developed scenario-based line oriented flight training (LOFT) style simulator training exercises for train drivers, conducted within a high-fidelity train cab simulator. LOFT is a particular type of simulator flight training that enables the practice of CRM principles. These simulator sessions were positively received by urban drivers. The use of recorded feedback from LOFT sessions is particularly effective as it provides participants with unique insight into their personal strengths and weaknesses. It also allows scenarios to be debriefed with reference to expected CRM behaviours, according to the RSSP.

Multiple opportunities are available to the railroad industry that might increase the scope of CRM training, including for practice and feedback of CRM skills, as well as continuing reinforcement - i.e. improved safety culture, states the FRA’s report. “Although the costs of CRM training would likely increase as a result of increased practice and feedback, these would most likely be offset by the increased effectiveness and duration of CRM training,” the FRA says.

Competences for Individuals and Teams

The UK Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in its ‘Developing and Maintaining Staff Competence’ publication issued in 2016, considers human factors as a form of railway safety risk control in relation to which ‘competence’ plays an important role. RRM related initiatives can be contextualised in a wider ‘competence management system’ (CMS). The ORR proposes a phased approach to develop a CMS for rail operators consisting of five phases: establishing requirements, designing the CMS, implementing the CMS, maintaining and developing competence and verifying, auditing and reviewing the CMS.

“The purpose of a CMS is to control in a logical and integrated manner a cycle of activities within the company or organisation that will assure and further develop competent performance in work. The aim is to ensure that individuals are clear about the performance that is expected of them, that they have received appropriate training, development and assessment, and that competence is maintained or improved over time,” says the ORR. “Training and development seeks to create a level of competence for the individual or team, sufficient to allow individuals or teams to undertake the operation at a basic level. Initially this will be under direct supervision, which will become less direct. Over time as knowledge and practical experience grows, operations can be carried out at a more complex level. Such an approach will also increase the confidence of the individual or team to deliver competent performance, while making them aware of their limitations.”

There are significant benefits to derive from RRM implementation. According to the FRA, human factors training programmes, such as CRM, can improve compliance with existing or even improved procedures/rules. “Beyond this, it can increase the coordination and efficiency of railroad operations by engendering improved teamwork across many different levels and crafts,” says the FRA.

Increased Productivity

Direct financial savings from reduced accident costs are likely following implementation of a CRM training programme and that financial and safety benefits should accrue in addition to those from reduced accident costs alone, according to the FRA. “These benefits would be in terms of increased efficiency in crew operations, increased overall productivity at several levels as the program expands to encompass other crafts, avoided litigation costs due to the decrease in the number of accidents, and reduced accident cleanup and remediation costs,” says the FRA.

The RSSP believes that organisations whose culture is not already aligned to the RRM philosophy should not be deterred from introducing it.

“RRM is a significant organisational development activity, designed to be a catalyst for cultural change by influencing the attitudes and behaviour of all employees. It can be concluded from the experience of industries like aviation that organisations already showing the attributes of a proactive or generative safety culture will find it easier to implement RRM and will see greatest effect from it,” says the RSSP. “Conversely, organisations lacking such a culture are likely to take longer to see initial improvement and to realise the full benefits of RRM. In any organisation however RRM training can contribute to the development and maintenance of a positive safety culture.”