Technical Report 2011-028

Reducing Unnecessary Cognitive Load in Traffic Control

Gunnika Isaksson-Luttemann, Bengt Sandblad, Arne W. Andersson, and Simon Tchirner

November 2011

Uppsala University has collaborated with Swedish National Railway Administration in research about train traffic control and how to improve traffic controllers' work environment, so that they can better meet future demands. This has resulted in a new operational train traffic control system called STEG. The traffic controllers are today forced to develop and use very complex mental models which take a long time to learn. We have also found that their cognitive capacity is more used to indentify, understand and analyze the traffic situation and less to solve problems and find optimal solutions to disturbances. The objective for developing STEG was to change this situation and reduce unnecessary cognitive load. Interviews with traffic controllers show that STEG has reduced the complexity of their mental models and contributed to less unnecessary cognitive load in operation. Our conclusion is that by reducing the complexity of their mental model, they can be skilled much faster and they are now able to use their cognitive capacity and skills on the important parts of their work.

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