TCS partners with TransDev to deliver Sustained Attention training to railroad crews.

Cognitive Demands and Performance Issues in Current Train Operations

Cognitive functions that underlie train crew performance and the factors that contribute to cognitive challenges include:

  • The need to maintain broad situation awareness and develop an accurate current situation model,
  • The need to generate expectations, to think ahead, to guide attention, and to prepare for anticipated actions as well as plan for contingencies.
  • The need to actively engage in sustained visual and auditory monitoring including monitoring radio communication,
  • The need to manage multiple demands on attention, and
  • The need to prioritize and manage multiple goals.

Operating a train requires extensive knowledge and skill that is developed through training and experience. Required long-term knowledge includes operating rules and route information.  In addition, train specific information and route specific information must be remembered by the train crew (e.g., temporary speed restrictions, work zones, and consist characteristics).  These place additional memory demands on the crew.

TransDev's Sustained Attention training program has been thoroughly researched, including testing and analyzing locomotive engineers under various scenarios.  Safety critical employees gain a higher level of performance with a more structured and recurring training approach.

Attention is your brain function that allocates cognitive processing resources to focus on information or stimuli.  It deals with how you mentally process specific information present in your environment that you are experiencing through your five senses.

Your attention span is your ability to keep your mind focused on something through careful observing or listening.  It can be just momentarily such as turning around after hearing a loud noise, or it may be for a sustained period of time such as operating a train.

Attention is often the beginning to other cognitive functions.  You first must pay attention to something before you can process it for meaning and understanding.

TCS President Terese Jones is quoted in Issue 75 (2016) of the American Association of Railroad Superintendents' newsletter - "Sustained Attention Training will enhance safety and assist with the prevention of critical operating rules violations.

"Statistical evidence has proven that distraction is a prominent factor in many major railroad accidents.  Assisting operating crews' situational awareness of distraction, as well as providing them with methods of combating this problem, should be a priority for railroads."


There are several types of attention that you use during the course of your daily activities.  The type of attention you use will vary depending on your need and circumstances.

Does the task need your undivided attention?

Do you need to concentrate on one thing while ignoring other things that may be going on at the same time?

Do you have to do two activities at the same time?

Depending on your needs and circumstances you may employ one of the following four types of attention.

Sustained attention is the ability to focus on one specific task for a continuous amount of time without being distracted.

Sustained attention is the major focus for railroads and other similar operations.  Ron Robusto, COO and VP Safety and Compliance, TransDev reports that the railroad industry sees the benefits of the Federal Railroad Administration's partnership with TransDev in a recently completed research and development project on cognitive distraction and reducing major rule violations in commuter rail operations.  As a result of the study's conclusive findings, the Sustained Attention Training Program was developed by TransDev with the objective of offering training across the industry to reduce human factor caused train accidents.

What is sustained attention?  Sustained attention is the ability to focus on one specific task for a continuous amount of time without being distracted.  Sustained attention is probably what you think of when you hear the words "attention", "focus", "concentration", or "vigilance."  You use sustained attention when you continuously maintain focus on one task or concentrate on an activity for a prolonged period of time without getting distracted.  Examples of sustained attention may include listening to lecture, reading a book, fixing an automobile and of course operating a train.

It can be challenging to maintain this type of attention for a significant amount of time without becoming distracted.  Therefore, your level of sustained attention will often vary.  You may be intensely focused one minute and then your attention may begin to lapse.  However, a key aspect of sustained attention is the ability to re-focus on the task after a distraction arises.

Selective attention is the ability to select from many factors or stimuli and to focus on only the one that you want while filtering out other distractions.

Alternating attention is the ability to switch your focus back and forth between tasks that require different cognitive demands.

Divided attention is the ability to process two or more responses or react to two or more different demands simultaneously.  Divided attention is often referred to as multi-tasking.

Rail Safety Training, Certification, Staffing, and Support​