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G-FORCE: Support for Operational Decision-Making

Most of the time, operational staff can draw on prescribed rules and procedures to keep the railway running. But what about circumstances that fall outside the Rule Book? And those occasions when applicable rules do not seem to deliver the desired outcomes? Our G-FORCE decision-making tool helps front line staff respond to unique situations quickly and effectively.

GB rail's exemplary safety record is due to conscious, ongoing investment in safety-driven improvements. However, a culture of adherence to rules and procedures can reduce flexibility and impair performance, particularly on congested parts of the network with a high volume of traffic. Opportunities to stop small incidents escalating can be missed when front line staff lack the confidence to use their professional judgement, and react in the most risk adverse and restrictive way. The knock-on effects can worsen whole-system safety risk, and cause delays and cancellations across the network.

G-FORCE provides a logical, structured decision-making process. It will help front line staff and managers decide on a course of action when:

  • there is no rule covering the situation
  • the procedure specifies asking for permission or advice, but the responsible person can’t be contacted
  • more than one rule applies, but they conflict with each other
  • following the applicable rule would be either impossible, unsafe, or have overall negative consequences.

G-FORCE drew on input from operational staff and their managers to identify factors that affect real-time decision making, such as the role of managerial or cultural constraints. We also looked at how other safety-critical industries, including aviation, the emergency services and the military, empower their staff to make decisions. 

Alongside training and wider cultural and organisational change, the G-FORCE approach can give staff confidence that decisions they make will be evaluated fairly, based on the process they used and the information available to them at the time. If you have a ‘just culture’ within your organisation or are working towards it, G-FORCE will help. It should also result in more consistent approaches and help to counteract decision-making 'paralysis'.

What would you do?

Improving front-line operational decision making

A train has overrun the station by one set of doors. There is no selective door opening and the train cannot reverse. The train is full and lots of passengers have luggage and pushchairs. Company policy is to open one local door.

A train driver has been asked to examine the line following a report of a track defect: they have found a broken rail ahead and stopped the train. While they have been examining the line, a bridge behind the train has been struck by a road vehicle. 

Get involved

G-FORCE is currently being trialled with East Midlands Trains and Network Rail’s London and North Eastern route. From April 2020 we will be rolling out the tool across other infrastructure managers and railway undertakings. To find out more or get your organisation involved, contact Andy Castledine, Professional Lead, Operations and Performance.

Download the tool and accompanying training material at sparkrail.org.

Resources

Crew Rescheduling for Disruption Management (S271)
Registered
ATOC / Network Rail Guidance Note – Meeting the Needs of Passengers when Trains are Stranded
G-FORCE: a tool for improving operational decision making (T1135 Good practice guide)
 
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