Considering the several stakeholders involved, communication and coordination inside and outside the train are very important to ensure effective railway safety performance. In this second of a two-part story on railway communication and coordination, SCT’s Mario Pierobon explores: The importance of assertiveness as an element of effective railway communication, the importance of cooperative communication, and the role of mobile communication.


Communication is an RRM (railway resource management )competency and assertiveness is one element of this competency. Developing assertiveness serves to ensure effective safety critical communication. According to RSSB[i], being assertive is saying confidently what is needed, while being respectful of others. Conversely, non-assertive behaviour is usually aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive. Aggressive behaviour is demanding and rude, it is also often the result of a lack of confidence. Passive behaviour tries to avoid conflict at all costs, and it is about trying to please everyone without stating one’s needs. Passive-aggressive behaviour that seeks to manipulate people. “To be assertive we must: state our needs clearly, avoid shouting, avoid sarcasm and mimicry, argue our point but be prepared to compromise, understand other’s needs, criticise a point of view, not a person, use ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ statements, be prepared to explain why we need something,” says RSSB.

Cooperative Communication Strategies

Communication plays a significant role in accomplishing work objectives, as well as in enabling railway workers to establish and maintain safe working conditions. Many communications are prescribed by formal operating rules. Others are more informal. It is important to emphasise informal, proactive communications, as informal communications facilitate work across railroad crafts and contribute to the overall efficiency, safety, and resilience to error of railroad operations, according to a 2007 US Department of Transport (DOT) report entitled ‘Communication and Coordination Demands of Railroad Roadway Worker Activities and Implications for New Technology’[ii]

Railway workers may work alone or as part of a team that must coordinate and cooperate in order to accomplish a common task, says the DOT. “In some cases, they may work at a particular location on the track to perform a specific maintenance task (changing a rail, troubleshooting a malfunctioning signal). They may also move across track (for example, to perform track inspection). This may be done on foot or riding a high-rail track car. Communication is an element of the roadway worker’s job and contributes to overall railroad system safety,” the DOT states.

Mobile Communication

The affirmation of mobile communication technology has the capacity to facilitate verbal exchange and to guide the cognitive and collaborative procedures required for preserving distributed situation awareness amongst railway workers, dispatchers, and train crews, says the DOT. “A portable device for roadway workers could include the following functions: GPS for more accurate location information, digital technologies for more reliable communication, communication, and data storage, retrieval, and computation functions to support maintenance and inspection tasks,” the DOT affirms.

There are possibilities to enhance railway workers’ performance and on-track safety through the use of digital communication technologies, according to the DOT “Specifically, portable roadway worker devices that combine technologies for more accurate location information with digital communication technologies for more reliable communication have the potential to facilitate communication and coordination among roadway workers, dispatchers, and locomotive engineers,” says the DOT. “Further, by incorporating broadcast capabilities that enable a given message to be sent to multiple individuals at the same time, it is possible to preserve some of the positive party line aspects of analog radio communication that fosters shared situation awareness of the locations and activities of others working in the same vicinity."

Summing Up

Effective safety critical communication is essential to ensure railway safety performance. In this article, we have assessed assertiveness as a key element of communication to develop, and the importance of cooperative and mobile communication in railway operations.


[i] RSSB, Safety Critical Communications: The manual of RSSB, November 2017,
[ii] Department of Transport (DOT), Communication and Coordination Demands of Railroad Roadway Worker Activities and Implications for New Technology, November 2007.