Disruption Recovery in Passenger Railways. International Survey

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, mode - rail, operations - performance, place - australasia, place - europe, place - north america


unplanned service disruptions, management, parallel transit systems, bus bridging


This research paper explores the manner in which passenger rail transit organizations plan for and manage unplanned service disruptions through an international survey of practices. The research reported here included semistructured interviews of those staff responsible for service disruption management within 71 international transit agencies. Results suggested that 20% of agencies had parallel transit systems that could be used by commuters whose service was disrupted. Most of these systems existed in inner-city contexts. Track intrusions, medical emergencies, weather extremes, and track and rolling stock failures were common causes of unplanned disruptions. Bus bridging was the most common response to line blockages, while transfer of passengers to the next train was the most common approach to individual rolling stock failures. Track crossovers were widely seen as critical to manage responses to disruptions. A small minority, mostly in cold climates, also saw crossovers as a cause of unplanned failures. Most agencies used spare buses as bus-bridging vehicles. Only 45% actively retracted buses from existing scheduled bus services. Some of these agencies did acknowledge that retraction often was done in extenuating circumstances, however. Rarely did agencies have a strategic reserve of buses for bus-bridging purposes. This paper discusses the implications of the study findings for further research and practice. This paper also documents that all responses to unplanned disruptions can be categorized according to the key disruption characteristics of duration, cause, time, and location, and it provides a typology of response mechanisms on the basis of such characteristics.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.