A Systems Analysis of Rail Level Crossings

With Contributions from:

Christine Mulvihill, Guy Walker and Miranda Cornelissen


This chapter describes the findings from a systems analysis of the existing rail level crossing system in Victoria, Australia. The purpose of the overall analysis was to:

  • 1. Develop an in-depth description of the functioning of rail level crossing systems in Victoria, Australia.
  • 2. Identify the key issues that currently do, or potentially could, threaten safety at rail level crossings.
  • 3. Generate insights to inform the design of new safer and more efficient rail level crossing environments.

The analysis involved applying the following:

  • Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA; Vicente 1999): CWA was applied to produce an in-depth description of rail level crossing system functioning and the factors influencing it, and to identify key findings to input into design processes.
  • Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA; Annett 2004): HTA was employed to produce a goal-based description of drivers’ interactions with passive and active rail level crossings. In addition, the description was used to inform a human error identification process.
  • Systematic Human Error Reduction and Prediction Approach (SHERPA; Embrey 1986): SHERPA was applied to identify the errors that drivers could make at existing rail level crossings in Victoria, Australia, and to explore the extent to which existing crossing environments exhibit error tolerance (i.e. are designed to prevent human errors, or provide opportunities for error identification, recovery or mitigation). Finally, the SHERPA analysis provided a means to identify the initial design ideas for improving behaviour and safety at rail level crossings.
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