Training on the tracks
A lot is happening on the busy Dutch railway network. Train drivers have to be able to deal with this well, and most of all, be able to communicate about it clearly. To each other as well as to the train dispatcher. Safety communication prevents misunderstandings and delays. Fortunately, the number of incidents is relatively small. That’s why it’s good to freshen up the safety communication skills every year. How can you offer train drivers real practice? In order to do that, Dutch Railroads (NS) got started with Faculty of Skills in a blended course.
The mission of NS: transporting more travellers safely, on time and comfortably through inviting train stations. Evelyn van Asselt is Human Performance Consultant at NS and in this case study, she will talk about how safety is optimized because train drivers work on their safety communication intensively.
Wanted: real practice
Train drivers' communications are subject to stringent requirements, such as being able to communicate their exact location and situation with the right phrasing. ‘We noticed from railway and workplace safety observations that this doesn’t always happen,’ says Evelyn van Asselt. ‘We want every train driver to use the correct communication for every incident. In order to make them aware of the correct communication, we talked in groups at the yearly reinstruction about improved safety communication and how to achieve this. Despite this, we didn’t see significant improvement for years on end. So we investigated why this was.’
"We want every train driver to use the correct communication for every incident"
An important cause appears to be a lack of experience with the relatively new rules. ‘The older train drivers most of all hadn’t really mastered these new rules. We had talked about it, but they never really practiced
them,’ Evelyn summarizes. In addition, the expectations weren’t clear for everyone. A combination of measures were required to provoke real change. ‘Regarding training, this meant that train drivers had to be able to practice intensively and realistically.’ In addition, NS wants to be able to determine the training effect on a skill level, so at least a part of the intervention had to be online.
Each NS train driver comes for reinstruction with a few colleagues once a year, and two hours are scheduled for safety communication. After an introduction about the benefit of training and an explanation about TrainTool, they get started with tablets. The first program determines their entry level and contains a few video role plays where the drivers are put in a practical situation. They hear the train dispatcher while they are in the cabin, and they have to answer correctly after the video is finished. After all exercises are finished, the coaching safety expert receives a notification and he will start assessing the exercises. In the meantime, the drivers practice with various skills, with theory and examples. They can record themselves an unlimited number of times.
Progress is clearly visible, with an average first score of 70% and average second score of 90%.
“You are forced to apply safetycommunication in a simple buteffective way.”
“Very valuable, I hope there will be a sequel. It’s the power of repetition in a relaxed atmosphere.”
‘Then, the safety expert gives them feedback one by one. We thought it was very important that this happens from a familiar source of authority, so there is no room for discussion,’ says Evelyn. With their first score in mind, the train drivers practice with a program on a competence that they can improve. ‘When they finish that program, they do a second test, followed again by personal feedback. If the coach determines the level
once again, we can measure their progress.’ The train drivers can repeat the specific practice program, and there is an extra program on emergencies available for them as well.’
At the moment, more than 350 train drivers have gone through the programs. Progress is clearly visible, with an average first score of 70% and an average second score of 90%. ‘We are very happy with that! Even though it’s not a guarantee that they perform as well in real life,’ says Evelyn. ‘Other factors play a big part, like the number of situations where the skills can be applied and the team manager’s appreciation of applying the right safety communication. Practicing with the program can make sure that the skills remain at the right level, or increase, even. But they have to get used to it.’
After each online program, part of the trainees gave a grade and feedback. The average grade of the online test increased from a 7 to a 7,5 between the first and second test. The six practice programs received a 7,38 on average, from which the programs Service announcements and Identifying both received an 8.