Resilience in the planning of rail engineering work

Ferreira, Pedro N.P. (2011) Resilience in the planning of rail engineering work. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The railway industry is today broadly recognised as a complex sociotechnical system that operates under considerable pressures for increased capacity and reliability. These pressures impact across the industry, in particular on rail engineering because of its responsibility in providing and maintaining the rail infrastructure. Within rail engineering, there is a growing need to address safety and operational risks emerging from high complexity.

Planning has been identified as a fundamental organisational function for the safety and efficiency of engineering work. Within this scope, this thesis recognises in the planning of rail engineering work the characteristics of complex sociotechnical systems and investigates planning activities as a part of a wider rail engineering system.

Resilience engineering has been recently proposed as a safety management approach that focuses on the development of means for better coping with the variability and uncertainty inherent to large scale complex sociotechnical system. The research documented in this thesis proposes the use of a resilience engineering based approach as a way to improve the ability of the rail engineering planning system to successfully contribute to the safety and efficiency of engineering work.

Overall, the purpose of this research was to describe and understand human and organisational factors of rail engineering planning, understand planning performance in view of the support it provides to work delivery, and investigate improvement to the planning system based on resilience engineering concepts. A contribution to the development of resilience engineering as a discipline was also made, mainly through the investigation of possible methods for measuring and monitoring system resilience.

The thesis has taken a research approach with emphasis on extensive top-down and cross-organisational exploratory work of the engineering work planning process. This was achieved through the use of quantitative and qualitative methods, namely the analysis of archival data on operational and safety performance, interviews, observations, and a questionnaire. The integration of the researcher within Network Rail’s Ergonomics National Specialist Team (NST) was fundamental for the access to a wide range of data and for the employment of a participant observation approach.

The engineering work planning system is described as a complex decision making process, ranging from high level strategic business decisions down to the definition and scheduling of work delivery details. The main human and organisational factors that either hindered or facilitated planning decision making were identified and archival data were used to study planning performance. Results from these research steps were then used to support the understanding and measurement of resilience in planning. Data were interpreted in view of the resilience literature and used as basis for the investigation of potential measurement tools and system interactions with relevance for the understanding of resilience as an emergent system property.

The methods used permitted a detailed description of the planning process and the identification of planning performance features within the wider frame of the rail engineering system. Human, organisational and system level factors were identified, which contributed to the understanding of planning and the identification of constraints and facilitating factors on decision making processes. Throughout the duration of this project, contributions to the development of resilience engineering and its methods were made, whilst identifying sources of resilience in the planning system and contributing to the development of measurement tools by means of a questionnaire approach. The understanding of resilience in rail engineering planning was used as a support for recommendations towards the improvement of the planning function’s ability to cope with operational pressures and successfully support work delivery.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Wilson, J.R.
Sharples, S.C.
Ryan, B.
Keywords: Resilience engineering Human factors Systems ergonomics Sociotechnical systems Functional resonance
Subjects: T Technology > TF Railroad engineering and operation
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering
Item ID: 12375
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2012 13:45
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2017 10:21

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