Modern cabs - do they overload the driver with information?

Llama

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Have a look at a picture of a class 710 cab, it's just overload.

For a case in point of what distractions are possible, on one class of our new units some bright spark has decided to perform a software update that means that any time some passenger presses a 'call for aid' (every few minutes now on a Friday/Saturday night) the main TCMS ('driver') screen that displays the drivers power and brake position, and is safety critical, suddenly reverts to a page that only shows the PA system. The driver doesn't even operate the PA on our units, we have guards for that. This is a recent software change and would be a huge distraction at certain critical moments considering the change in screen to something useless is also accompanied by lights and a loud audible alarm - not what you want when you're a coach length from a buffer stop.
 
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theageofthetra

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Have a look at a picture of a class 710 cab, it's just overload.

For a case in point of what distractions are possible, on one class of our new units some bright spark has decided to perform a software update that means that any time some passenger presses a 'call for aid' (every few minutes now on a Friday/Saturday night) the main TCMS ('driver') screen that displays the drivers power and brake position, and is safety critical, suddenly reverts to a page that only shows the PA system. The driver doesn't even operate the PA on our units, we have guards for that. This is a recent software change and would be a huge distraction at certain critical moments considering the change in screen to something useless is also accompanied by lights and a loud audible alarm - not what you want when you're a coach length from a buffer stop.
Oh on earth signed off such a ridiculous change? (going off topic I know)
 

Llama

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Sorry, also going off topic, our union reps would be all over that
If you ever have the pleasure of a CAF TCMS you'll realise that there are a lot of quirks like this, although this has to be the worst. As for the reps, all I'll say is that the ones who were involved in the introduction of these units did very well for themselves.

Yes this is slightly off topic but in some respects it also isn't - the discussion of excessive workload for a driver leading to distractions and having to prioritise ambiguous/inappropriately presented information in very time-critical situations such as final approach to a buffer stop is a huge human factors risk.

I'm not saying that this is what happened in relation to this particular incident but I will say that it has caused incidents. And TMS type computers are not a new thing - we had them on 175s & 180s 20 years ago, but the way modern stock focuses all functionality on the computer is insanity. On the older units the TMS was a subtle screen out of the direct line of sight of the driver, only needing to be looked at when necessary. On our CAF units it's front and centre, slap bang in the drivers line of sight and it provides the majority of safety critical information to the driver including traction and brake settings - except when it doesn't and is trying to tell you unimportant information at the wrong time.

When necessary to get around serous faults the computer on CAF units can be isolated - but so much stuff needlessly goes through the computer: for example isolating the TCMS on a 195 you even lose the cab heater, the instrument lights and the intermittent wiper setting. Surely it'd be cheaper and easier to hardwire such basics using nothing more complicated than simple switches, relays and circuit breakers etc, but no - overcomplication rules.
 

theageofthetra

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If you ever have the pleasure of a CAF TCMS you'll realise that there are a lot of quirks like this, although this has to be the worst. As for the reps, all I'll say is that the ones who were involved in the introduction of these units did very well for themselves.

Yes this is slightly off topic but in some respects it also isn't - the discussion of excessive workload for a driver leading to distractions and having to prioritise ambiguous/inappropriately presented information in very time-critical situations such as final approach to a buffer stop is a huge human factors risk.

I'm not saying that this is what happened in relation to this particular incident but I will say that it has caused incidents. And TMS type computers are not a new thing - we had them on 175s & 180s 20 years ago, but the way modern stock focuses all functionality on the computer is insanity. On the older units the TMS was a subtle screen out of the direct line of sight of the driver, only needing to be looked at when necessary. On our CAF units it's front and centre, slap bang in the drivers line of sight and it provides the majority of safety critical information to the driver including traction and brake settings - except when it doesn't and is trying to tell you unimportant information at the wrong time.

When necessary to get around serous faults the computer on CAF units can be isolated - but so much stuff needlessly goes through the computer: for example isolating the TCMS on a 195 you even lose the cab heater, the instrument lights and the intermittent wiper setting. Surely it'd be cheaper and easier to hardwire such basics using nothing more complicated than simple switches, relays and circuit breakers etc, but no - overcomplication rules.
I think this comment says all an outsider needs to see on how the railway operates.
 

Llama

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It's not unique to drivers - there have been recent incidents where signallers have been overloaded with info/'workload' in a similar way too.

What we're discussing here might be nothing to do with the root causes of today's Enfield incident but there will almost certainly be incidents where it is a big factor.
 

Horizon22

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When necessary to get around serous faults the computer on CAF units can be isolated - but so much stuff needlessly goes through the computer: for example isolating the TCMS on a 195 you even lose the cab heater, the instrument lights and the intermittent wiper setting. Surely it'd be cheaper and easier to hardwire such basics using nothing more complicated than simple switches, relays and circuit breakers etc, but no - overcomplication rules.

I can see both the pros and cons to this. I've seen other new unit cabs and they don't seem as severe as CAF sets although a lot of information is indeed fed through the TMS/computer. In some ways it is very useful to have all the information in one place, rather then having to fiddle around with switches or going into MCB cabinets or whatever. I think it probably just needs a bit of UI/UX input so that information is effectively prioritised and does not act as a distraction.
 

Bikeman78

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I think this sums up the modern world. Too much noise which makes it hard to sift out the useful from the useless. E.g. the doors on IETs auto close after a few seconds. So the hustle alarm goes off repeatedly. You can imagine what Paddington sounds like now. It often causes people to run for the train because they think it's about to depart early.
 

D365

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If drivers feel overloaded now, just imagine when ETCS is rolled out o_O
 

Wyrleybart

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I think this sums up the modern world. Too much noise which makes it hard to sift out the useful from the useless. E.g. the doors on IETs auto close after a few seconds. So the hustle alarm goes off repeatedly. You can imagine what Paddington sounds like now. It often causes people to run for the train because they think it's about to depart early.
Good point made. I don't visit McDs very often but on the odd occasion I do I am very conscious of the sheer racket from the kitchen area with all those auto operated cooking devices for the fryers, grilles and ovens. If I worked there I would surely suffer mental health problems even if my hearing remained intact in the long term.
So yes, train cabs are for where train drivers drive their trains, and there needs to be a perceptible gap between "customer service" activities and the safety of the line requirements for the driver to stop in the right place every time.
 

ComUtoR

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Have a look at a picture of a class 710 cab, it's just overload.
My Google-Fu seems to be a little weak this evening. Have you got a link please ?


However, I don't find modern cabs with TMS to be distracting or overloading.
 

ComUtoR

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Oooh thanks. I found a decent image of a 720 cab and it looks pretty much exactly the same.

On my Google journey I did see a 331 cab that was pretty dire but https://www.railengineer.co.uk/reducing-access-time-train-cab-simulator-systems/ This monstrosity took the biscuit. (the main page banner picture)

I think the older units with buttons all over the place just look cluttered and tired. A modern TMS/Mitrac/HMI still has all the bells and whistles but in a much more intuitive layout and one a touchscreen.

An example would be if you look at the 331 cab (halfway down this https://www.railwaymagazine.co.uk/15227/moving-in-moving-on-moving-out-2/ page) you can see the TPWS mk4 but on the 710 it isn't visible. I assume its because its now integrated into the TMS.
 

jfowkes

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Speaking as a programmer, this is depressing to hear.

In principle, modern computer systems and displays should allow a wondrously efficient and effective interface that's easy to understand, easy to maintain and at a much lower cost than a ton of hardware.

Drivers should work with system designers to develop and test those interfaces, with defined plans for upgrades, acceptance and rollout.

But like so much in computing, user experience and good maintenance and deployment practices takes a back seat to just getting features out.
 

ComUtoR

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Ours is directly integrated into the DMI (another screen)

If that fails then the unit is going to be put of service. The rulebook allows for isolation of AWS and TPWS. So I don't see an issue.
 

D365

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DMI is fair enough, in order to separate safety-critical function.
 

XAM2175

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In principle, modern computer systems and displays should allow a wondrously efficient and effective interface that's easy to understand, easy to maintain and at a much lower cost than a ton of hardware.
Yes, it should be easier than ever before to come up with a cab and display user interface that's genuinely efficient and intuitive.

Hell, Siemens managed to do this for DB over fifteen years ago:


(Br 189 cab, via Wikimedia Commons)

The two screens on the left are for the GSM-R terminal and TMS respectively, the centre screen is the ETCS Driver-Machine Interface (DMI), for the speedometer and other safety-critical indications, and the right-hand screen is DB's electronic timetable and line guide.
 

pdeaves

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It's not just trains, though. As an example, time was in my parent's car if you wanted heating you could reach out and turn a knob without looking away from the road. Now, there is a touch screen computer that needs you to go to the right page to do the same thing. Touch screen means you can't even complete the action by feel alone, you have to look away from the road.

I imagine a similar design process has gone into the train cab. Do it with the computer 'because we can'.
 

westcoaster

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If drivers feel overloaded now, just imagine when ETCS is rolled out o_O
Level 2 with overlay + ATO. I don't find it overloading.

Ours is directly integrated into the DMI (another screen)

If that fails then the unit is going to be put of service. The rulebook allows for isolation of AWS and TPWS. So I don't see an issue.
Are the 707's are like the 700's, where the dmi has a back up ( computer switcher over to the back up R2).
 

jfowkes

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It's not just trains, though. As an example, time was in my parent's car if you wanted heating you could reach out and turn a knob without looking away from the road. Now, there is a touch screen computer that needs you to go to the right page to do the same thing. Touch screen means you can't even complete the action by feel alone, you have to look away from the road.

I imagine a similar design process has gone into the train cab. Do it with the computer 'because we can'.
Yeah having defended the use of computer interfaces in cabs, there's definitely a role for having tactile, hardware controls that drivers don't have to physically look at to operate.

Trains have an advantage over cars in regard to interface design because you have a relatively small pool of professional operators that you can get design input from and provide training to. Having the right mix of hardware and software controls should be "easy", where "easy" is a long hard process of UX design.
 

357

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I don't think modern cabs are overload, I'm confused by the comments about drivers relying on the screen to tell them what position the PBC is in, it's normally possible by feel and you can tell if your train is slowing down or speeding up anyway.

However the one thing I long for on Mitrac (Electrostar TMS) is dark mode!

Our iPads for DAS/TAS have dark mode, it surely wouldn't be too hard to have dark mode on the TMS?

As a result most drivers turn the screen off completely once it gets dark, so that they can actually see out the windscreen in front of them.
 

Irascible

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Speaking as a programmer, this is depressing to hear.

In principle, modern computer systems and displays should allow a wondrously efficient and effective interface that's easy to understand, easy to maintain and at a much lower cost than a ton of hardware.

Drivers should work with system designers to develop and test those interfaces, with defined plans for upgrades, acceptance and rollout.

But like so much in computing, user experience and good maintenance and deployment practices takes a back seat to just getting features out.

As someone else who spent a long time in software, have to agree with you. UI design everywhere is rapidly going downhill, no surprise it can bleed over. I had a rant about standards in train software elsewhere, but this is also a place that apparently badly needs a standards body putting their foot down. Removing safety critical information *at any time* should be illegal, honestly. There's zero excuse, we've got decades of aircraft digital interfaces to look at.

Also: can CAF get *anything* right?
 

Mike Machin

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Most locomotive and multiple unit cabs have far fewer less technology and far fewer interfaces than my new car!
 

Llama

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I don't think modern cabs are overload, I'm confused by the comments about drivers relying on the screen to tell them what position the PBC is in, it's normally possible by feel and you can tell if your train is slowing down or speeding up anyway.

However the one thing I long for on Mitrac (Electrostar TMS) is dark mode!

Our iPads for DAS/TAS have dark mode, it surely wouldn't be too hard to have dark mode on the TMS?

As a result most drivers turn the screen off completely once it gets dark, so that they can actually see out the windscreen in front of them.
You've never driven a CAF unit then?

Even when they were brand new every CPBC felt different. They've not got better with a couple of years of use. I assume there's meant to be a certain element of friction in the movement through the arc to power and to brake, but some are completely free of friction to the extent that if you let go of the CPBC it will spring towards the extreme or minimum of whichever direction it had been applied (so the brake can be biased to spring back to release, and the traction power can spring towards maximum - both a bit dangerous really). Some others are so stiff to move that drivers have complained of arm & shoulder pain.

The TCMS on our CAF units is auto-dimming and usually seems ok, not too bright in the dark. Sometimes the brightness can get 'stuck' but putting the main cab light on for a second can tend to wake it up to dim properly.

The issue is with the fact that everything on the unit is TCMS-centric, and there are just too many spurious alarms which take the 'driver' page away - 'ASDO not located' takes over at least half a dozen times on most journeys on 195s and as I say there's been a recent mod whereby a passenger pressing a call-for-aid has a similar effect to that on QI when someone gets an answer wrong, just what you need coming up to a red, or going along a bay platform.
 

ainsworth74

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The report into the Neville Hill train collision in 2019 is rather damning of the technology the driver was struggling to deal with. I fail to understand why if using a mobile phone is (correctly) banned in cabs why having to deal with multiple computers at the same time is deemed safe?
Well worth ready this -
Yes that's what sprang to mind. The design of that UI appears to have left a lot to desire!

That being said I do think that it shouldn't be beyond the whit of man to train a driver to use the systems in their cab properly but I do think the industry needs to start thinking in a more holistic manner about the design and approach to various systems within the cab. Both from button layouts, to screens and how/when information is displayed and how intuitive it is.

I do also wonder about the training that goes into this as you may well have had slightly "analogue" shall we say drivers moving into a digital world. Thinking about that Neville Hill crash the driver there will have likely spent most of their career driving HSTs, DVTs and 91s which might have clever gubbins under the hood are not exactly very sophisticated in what the driver has to actually deal with (which isn't to suggest there isn't skill just that it's different skills!). Though to be fair at this point I suspect most TOCs have got enough new trains floating around that there are probably fairly limited number of drivers who have not had to confront the digital age!

But certainly I do suspect that there's work to be done on, I guess you might describe it as, cab ergonomics and how information is displayed and laid out. Aviation has been on a similar journey over the years with early generations of digital systems not always making it clear to the crew what the condition of say the autopilot was or what logic was being applied to the flight controls meaning the crew thought they were in one set-up when they were in fact in a different one and therefore made the wrong decisions. Similar issues I believe have emerged when pilots have gone from flying older aircraft to ones with all singing and dancing glass cockpits.

Whilst, thankfully, the railway is already so safe that even if a driver makes a mistake due to not fully understanding the information presented or due to distraction from "all those bleeding flashing lights and doodads!" that the chances of a serious disaster are fairly remote but I do wonder if the industry and specifically those that design the cabs and the UI of the computers that go into them are fully alive to such issues and give them the respect they deserve?
 

357

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You've never driven a CAF unit then?

Even when they were brand new every CPBC felt different. They've not got better with a couple of years of use. I assume there's meant to be a certain element of friction in the movement through the arc to power and to brake, but some are completely free of friction to the extent that if you let go of the CPBC it will spring towards the extreme or minimum of whichever direction it had been applied (so the brake can be biased to spring back to release, and the traction power can spring towards maximum - both a bit dangerous really). Some others are so stiff to move that drivers have complained of arm & shoulder pain.

The TCMS on our CAF units is auto-dimming and usually seems ok, not too bright in the dark. Sometimes the brightness can get 'stuck' but putting the main cab light on for a second can tend to wake it up to dim properly.

The issue is with the fact that everything on the unit is TCMS-centric, and there are just too many spurious alarms which take the 'driver' page away - 'ASDO not located' takes over at least half a dozen times on most journeys on 195s and as I say there's been a recent mod whereby a passenger pressing a call-for-aid has a similar effect to that on QI when someone gets an answer wrong, just what you need coming up to a red, or going along a bay platform.

Never driven a CAF unit - but all I can say to what you've written about the TBC is "FFS"!

Do they even have a notch for "off and release"?

Bombardier TMS does not dim at all, it just has "dark screen", on newer units it has grey text saying the length of the train, but on older units it is totally blank.

You have to turn it off. It's the only way to see what's in front of you at night.
 

O L Leigh

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I've been in the cabs of traction I don't sign while route learning/refreshing and seen what looked to me like a very cluttered and confusing desk, but the driver always seems more than capable of coping. And I think that's a difference worth remembering. If I'd signed that traction I would have been trained to use that cab, been taught what each of the buttons and TMS screens are for and how to use them, had practice with them, both in a simulated environment and out on the road, and been assessed on my competence and only allowed out with one if I demonstrated my capability. Therefore I don't tend to judge the cabs of unfamiliar classes or assess their user-friendliness.

Having driven traction both with and without TMS assistance, I have to say that I prefer having it. An illuminated train fault light tells me very little, but the TMS will tell me all I need to know. It can be annoying at times sure, but the irritations don't outweigh the benefits in my view.

That said, I do wish train designers would come out and meet operational staff a bit more often (and I don't just mean union reps who rarely drive trains anyway) so that they can understand what it is we like and want. But all new fleets seem to go through an amount of pain, even when it's an existing design. If you're experiencing problems please do keep reporting them rather than ignoring them. The wonks with the laptops won't know there's an issue otherwise.

Just to give a word of praise to the designer of the DAS system, if I may. This automatically blanks the screen whenever there is a passcom activation in order to allow the driver to deal with that issue without undue distraction.
 

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