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Tasks & Demands

A conductor operating a train.
Used by permission of Transdev, Inc.

What Operators Do

Operators are workers who perform tasks to operate a rail system. This includes locomotive engineers and conductors, as well as dispatchers and yard supervisors. Engineers and conductors have five demands on their attention as they operate a locomotive. 

  • Compliance - Pay attention to task requirements set by regulatory authorities
  • Orientation - Pay attention to location on route, such as train position with respect to signals
  • Prioritization - Choose among tasks and requirements according to how important they are
  • Redundancy - Pay attention to tasks fellow operators (such as conductors) perform
  • Vigilant monitor - Pay attention to potential threats to the safe performance of assigned tasks

What System Developers Do to Support Rail Operators

Researchers who work for rail original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) develop new systems for rail operators to use. Good workload assessment shows what operators do on the job. Good rapid prototyping and participatory design can be used to manage display layout and content. The goal is to provide enough information for the operator to make timely, accurate decisions, but not too much to confuse and overload the operator.  

  • Application-Effectively use HSI information to develop improved systems, workstations, displays and controls

  • Design-Conceive systems, displays and workstations that reflect operator decision making and related skills

  • Prioritization-Choose among operator tasks and requirements according to their importance

  • Quantification-Develop, use numerical values to measure aspects of operator performance, including attention

  • Training-Enable operator to improve their performance as vigilant monitors


  • Nemeth, C., Papautsky, L., Grome, A. & Fallon, C. (2014). Computer-Based Training in Human-Systems Integration . Technical Report. Federal Railroad Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Washington, DC. 20590