With the advent of Positive Train Control (PTC), railroads have significantly expanded their communications, signaling, networking and information technology systems. This has required training for existing staff as well as new staff with experience in these areas from industries other than railroading. At the same time, railroads must ensure that maintenance and operations are supported by properly trained employees who execute their responsibilities consistent with regulatory and railroad requirements. Certainly, this is the case for the vast majority of railroad employees; however, in those rare instances when employees deviate from their training, the results can be catastrophic. This has played out recently at Metro North Railroad, which has suffered five accidents over a ten month period, resulting in six fatalities, one hundred and twenty-eight injuries and twenty-eight million dollars in property damage.

The lessons from these tragedies, from the perspective of human behavior, and more specifically, training is discussed. Indeed, these accidents, in part, occurred because the railroad’s training program did not achieve its desired outcome, to mold human behavior; especially while performing safety-critical work. This is consistent with the findings of a recent Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety review of Metro North Railroad, which found ineffective training was at least in part to blame for the aforementioned rash of accidents.

The rigorous training requirements, that are part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), are detailed. These requirements are intended to ensure that employees are properly prepared to maintain and operate these complex systems and have the added benefit of helping to prepare new employees to take the place of departing, highly experienced individuals. Recognizing the criticality of this training, this paper details training best practices and how they can most effectively be leveraged by railroads. Properly applied, they can reduce accidents, stem the loss of institutional knowledge and properly prepare railroad staff to maintain and operate their new PTC systems.

This paper discusses how comprehensive training programs should be built on a foundation of organizational understanding, created by conducting training needs analysis. This analysis seeks to identify the current state of knowledge of key personnel, and compares it to that needed to properly support new organizational goals, such as to maintain and operate PTC. These organizational goals, coupled with the training needs analysis findings, then drive the enhancement of existing training programs, and, in some cases, the creation of new programs. In order to maximize effectiveness of these programs, it was found that training must be conducted using real-life case studies and in a manner that is engaging and interactive.

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