Analysing Railway Safety with Systems Thinking

Yadong Zhang, Xiaocheng Ge, Wudong Yang, Jin Guo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Railway system is a socio-technical system because the operation of such system also heavily relies on the management of human activities and operating procedures in the organisation, as well as the execution of technical subsystems. Safety of these systems therefore is more than just about engineering their technical subsystems. The latest approach from systems engineering considers that an accident is due to inadequate controlled interactions in the system and is usually a dynamic event chain started from the activation of a hazard and culminated in a complex process of sequential and concurrent events until the system is eventually out of control. Meanwhile the analysis of these systems’s safety becomes much harder when simply applying the traditional techniques of safety assessment. It is because, first of all, a social-technical system consists of a lot of complex and non-linear interactions, traditional techniques show their limits when analysing complex systems. And secondly, the safety of a social-technical system requires a system perspective, which should take all the behaviours (desired and undesired but predicted) of a system as a whole in the context of its environment. To capture the information needed, the models for these analyses (i.e., fault tree and FMEA table) will become too complex to have a systemic view of each individual causal factor. In this paper, we proposed an approach based on system thinking and system dynamics to analyse the safety of a social-technical system. The case study of a tram accident is simple enough for the purpose of demonstrating its feasibility and benefits. The comparison with fault tree analysis was conducted, but it was not for the evaluation of our approach. The real evaluation comes from the extensive applications in real world.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationICRT 2017
Subtitle of host publicationRailway Development, Operations, and Maintenance - Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Rail Transportation 2017
PublisherAmerican Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780784481257
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2018
EventFirst International Conference on Rail Transportation - Chengdu, China
Duration: 10 Jul 201712 Jul 2017
Conference number: 1 (Link to Conference Website)


ConferenceFirst International Conference on Rail Transportation
Abbreviated titleICRT 2017
OtherThe First International Conference on Rail Transportation is an open forum for scientists, researchers, and engineers around the world to promote the exchange of the latest scientific and technological innovations in rail transportation; and to advance the state-of-the-art in engineering and practices for various types of rail-based transportation systems.
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