HUMAN-COMPUTER INTERACTION IN RAIL TRANSPORTATION

About a decade ago, Japan decided to privatize and break its state-owned and -controlled Japanese National Railroad Company into about six parts. Honshu Island is served by two of these: East Japan Rail, which serves all of the Tokyo area and the east and north of the island, and Central Japan Rail, which serves the areas from Tokyo south, including the industrial areas of Osaka, Nagoya, and Kyoto. The other parts of Japan are served by other lines.

Along with the French TGV (Train Grand Vitesse) and the German ICE (Inter-City Express), the Japanese shinkansen ("bullet trains") are far superior to what is available in the United States. Trains are fast (routinely 250 km per hour), dependable and precisely on time, well-maintained, and luxurious. The writer arranged several head-end rides in locomotive cabs and observed the increased use of computers in this conservative industry (conservative because of the tremendous capital investment in property, track, and rolling stock). While the rail companies' R&D budgets are much smaller than those of a consumer product manufacturer, they are gradually employing computers: computers are used in train operations for in-cab signaling (as contrasted to looking out of the window at wayside lights and other signaling devices, which at high speeds simply go by too quickly to see); computers are used in the centralized control centers for train monitoring and dispatching; computer-generated scenes and computer-based dynamic models are used for engineering development and training drivers; and computer-aided instruction (CAI) is beginning to be used, as well. The JTEC team visited the safety research lab of East Japan Rail (see site report, Appendix C) and observed the human-in-the-loop simulator and the CAI research activities.

It is interesting to contrast the dress of the train drivers of the shinkansen with that of drivers of the French TGV, the German ICE, and the best of the U.S. Amtrak. The U.S. drivers wear blue jeans and sport shirts, the French and German drivers wear semi-uniforms or at least shirts and ties, while the Japanese drivers wear crisp blue-gray uniforms with hats and white gloves, all of which they wear even during extended runs alone in the cab. This contrast in work attire points to a distinct organizational psychology in Japan.


Published: March 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian