4.4.1 to 4.4.3

Course subject(s) 4. Complexity of Disruptions


4.4.1 Automated Disruption Management

Railway disruptions must be resolved in a fast and well-thought-out manner. This is because disruptions have a negative impact on the finance and public image of the railway operator. That being said, even small disruptions pose a risk to extend into larger and more complex disruptions if unattended. For that reason, railway companies are prepared with a decision making framework for disruption management.

In the previous week, we already looked at these predefined solutions on an operational level, which are used for complex disruptions. Below, we examine how railway operators deal with less complicated disruptions using automation.

The scheduling and routing of the trains in actual railway networks is a very complex job with many variables. Thus, it has been automated by the use of computer systems, optimization algorithms and decision-making strategies. In the same way, disruption management has become very complex and is usually done in an automated manner. Whether these algorithms and decision-making strategies are truly effective at finding an optimal solution for disruption management (e.g. timetable rescheduling) is a matter of discussion, and so these systems and strategies will change together with the system.

Goal of the automated systems

The operating algorithms and frameworks use certain decision variables to evaluate the possible solutions and choose an optimal one. In these cases, the most common goals are: minimize delays and minimize disruption costs. Furthermore, other considerations could be taken depending on the preferences of the company, such as minimizing energy consumption of the solution.

These strategies can be categorized to four preferences:

    1. Minimize customer inconvenience: Avoid cancelling trains and provide enough alternatives to satisfy the demand during a disruption.
    2. Keep disruption local: Changes in the time table should be minimized to minimize the extended effect of a disruption.
    3. Keep the solution simple: Any changes in the time table or trains traveling in a different direction than normally will need to go back to their original track/station after the disruption is resolved.
    4. Maximize efficiency of the solution: Reduce the additional driven distance of the trains needed to resolve the issue.

4.4.2 Resolving and Recovering


The execution of your disruption plan should usually done at different levels, depending on the type of disruption and the cause. Management and Operations should take action and provide the necessary resources to resolve the issue: tools, personnel and/or vehicles.

Technical failures will require the action of the local maintenance technicians or the action of specialists. While major disruptions, such as damage to a building, collisions, and accidents might require not only greater action, but also intervention from local authorities, such as the police or fire department.

Nonetheless, some disruptions are more difficult to resolve immediately, depending on the cause. For example, disruptions caused by extreme weather conditions might only be resolved after the weather conditions are back to a normal state.


Communication between the involved parties within the railway operator’s company, the passengers, the local authorities and other third parties is of special importance. For disturbances such as the delay of a train, the customer should be well informed to avoid confusion and reduced satisfaction. Moreover, during a critical disturbance such as an accident, it is important that the passengers are well-informed of the situation and of the plan of action, if it involves them. If well-informed, passengers will show a greater understanding and cooperation during an unavoidable and severe disturbance.

In the animation shown below you can see a possible solution for resolving a service gap (after a train has been cancelled) in a metroline.

4.4.3 Emergency Service

Police cars, ambulances and fire trucks have blue lights to indicate a crisis and ensure they are given priority over regular road traffic, and the emergency service of train incidents in the Netherlands have this as well.

People are standing by at any time of the day in case anything critical happens on the track. While we will spend more time on this topic in the follow-up courses, below a first introduction to this special vehicles.

The right video below (in Dutch) explains that ProRail is allowed to drive with blue emergency vehicle lighting because they have a special emergency service for the problems on and around the track. This way they can arrive quickly at the scene of the emergency.

Source: Emergency Responses Netherlands (top – no text) and ProRail (bottom – in Dutch)

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