New Toolkit to Tackle Cognitive Underload

An accessible guide created by drivers for drivers, packed with practical tips and techniques.

The rail industry has known for many years that high mental or physical workload (overload) can cause people to make mistakes. But there has been little recognition of the effect on performance at times when workload is low (underload).

RSSB research shows that most drivers of passenger and freight trains experience cognitive underload on a regular basis. Underload contributes to feelings of tiredness or boredom; and may lead to loss of concentration. Drivers report using a wide range of techniques to self-manage workload levels, from cab drills to changing posture, to singing.

Findings from the research were used to create the Underload Toolbox, which was tested on drivers from South Western Railway and London North Eastern Railway. The toolbox received positive feedback from drivers at both companies. They reported that they picked up new ways to help manage their alertness levels.

Since the toolbox was published, a number of operating companies have started to use it. As well as the trial companies, these include West Midlands Trains, Great Western Railway, Network Rail (freight), Volker Rail and GB Railfreight.

Next steps

The toolbox and accompanying video are freely available for use at driver safety days. We also encourage everyone in the industry, from directors to the front line, to make themselves aware of the importance of managing underload.


The Underload Toolbox has helped me feel better equipped to manage underload day to day, I think about underload more now… I think the toolbox is good – clear, concise and easy to read.’

Train Driver
London North Eastern Railway

Download the Underload Toolbox and watch the video below.

The full report is available in the RSSB research catalogue.

Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our Human Factors Specialist for further information.
Sam Waters
Sam Waters
Tel: 020 3142 5620
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