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Key Functions


The objectives of FRA's Human Factors R&D Program, consistent with Departmental strategic goals, are to improve the safety of rail transportation. This goal is achieved through applied and theoretical research activities, dissemination of research results, implementation and demonstration projects, on-going program evaluation, and technology transfer.

Mission and Vision


To use the scientific method, the canon of human factors research, program evaluation standards, and technology transfer to systematically improve safety in the U.S. railroad industry.


To serve as an international center for excellence in railroad human factors research, recognized as a leader in cutting-edge research, technology transfer, and objective demonstrations and evaluations of rail safety improvements.

Key Functions

  • Provide technical, analytical and scientific guidance to support policy level decision making and other strategic initiatives within FRA and the Department for those utilizing or requiring human factors support;

  • Implement innovative, collaborative, scientifically-based research and demonstration programs that lead to significant industry-wide reductions in the number of accidents, injuries and deaths related to human error in railroad operations and railroad systems design;

  • Evaluate the utilization, impact and effectiveness of human factors related safety initiatives in order to systematically determine the cost and safety benefit; and

  • Collaborate with inter-agency, inter-departmental, inter-governmental, and other non-government research institutions on cross-cutting, multi-disciplinary research, evaluation, and technology transfer programs, as well as the development and application of human factors standards (for entities such as the International Standards Organization, or ISO).

Human-Centered Systems Approach in a Social-Technical System

Human factors research can be seen as part of a "human-centered systems" approach, which focuses on human capabilities and limitations with respect to human/system interfaces, operations, system integration, and organizational influences on safety. Increased attention to human performance and behavior using a systems approach will reduce crashes, loss of life, injuries, property damage, and resultant personal and financial costs. FRA's Human Factors R&D Program follows a systems model based on Neville Moray's (1988) Structure of Socio-Technical Systems, shown below. In this model of nested influences, each layer encompasses the content of inner layers. Outer layers of the framework contain elements of inner layers and influence the inner layers, giving the program elements a great deal of interconnectivity.

A diagram braking down the elements of a socio-technical system.

FRA Human Factors R&D Program Structure

FRA's Human Factors R&D Program is structured into two broad program areas, each with subordinate subprogram areas of research. The broad program areas include: Railroad Systems & Operations, and Grade Crossings & Trespassers. Because trespassers and driver behavior at grade crossings involve the general public, presenting a unique problem for human factors research, this area of research is represented by its own category.  Otherwise, each broad program area and subprogram area is supported by specific projects. Each of these broad program area and subprogram areas is supported by specific projects and under each of these broad program areas are three subprograms:

  • organizational culture and safety performance
  • railway worker/operator performance, safety and health; and
  • technology, including automation and systems design

The Human Factors R&D program is driven by an active strategic planning process that includes two supporting functions:

  • Program Evaluation
  • Technology Transfer

On-going strategic planning efforts include the prioritization and selection of research projects, project coordination, and development of the program activities. Program evaluation and technology transfer help knit the entire program together. Program evaluation initiatives help increase the feasibility, utilization, impact and effectiveness of the Human Factors R&D Program. Technology transfer initiatives improve the likelihood of commercialization and transfer of technology-related products. Periodic context assessments of the social, legal, and policy barriers in the industry are also conducted, which provide the necessary perspective needed to enlist and secure stakeholder commitment, collaborative research and demonstration partnerships, and long-term sustainability in programmatic human factors research.

A tree diagram breaking down the FRA Human Factors in the research and development program.

FRA's Human Factors R&D Program in a Socio-Technical System

FRA's Human Factors R&D Program has been structured to correspond to the layers identified in the socio-technical system (see below). This balanced, multilayered approach to enhancing the safety of railroad operations includes programmatic areas of research in all layers of the socio-technical system to maximize safety impact at the broadest levels across the industry.

A diagram breaking down human factors in the research and development program in a socio-technical system.

See Also