Following the cognitive work analysis train of thought: exploring the constraints of modal shift to rail transport

Ergonomics. 2013;56(3):522-40. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2012.718366. Epub 2012 Aug 30.


Environmental concerns show that transport is responsible for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it is also the fastest growing sector. Modal shift towards public transport could help slow down, or even reverse, this trend. There appear to be a number of constraints that are preventing this from happening. This paper explores the constraints to modal shift to rail transport from the perspective of cognitive work analysis, specifically the abstraction hierarchy, the contextual activity template and social organisational and cooperation analyses. Whilst these analyses may not present any new barriers, they do show how the constraints are interlinked in an explicit manner. These interrelations are important for two reasons. First, in consideration of constraint removal, one must anticipate the likely effects on the remainder of the system. Second, by linking functions and situations, new concepts of travel may be identified and explored.

Practitioner summary: The purpose of this study was to use a semi-structured approach to identifying constraints to modal shift from a variety of perspectives. It is argued that cognitive work analysis offers a new way of thinking about the modal shift problem and helps to generate new insights into potential solutions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / prevention & control
  • Automobiles* / economics
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Perception
  • Railroads* / economics
  • Safety*
  • Time Factors