International Study of Current and Potential Social Media Applications in Unplanned Passenger Rail Disruptions

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - australasia, mode - rail, technology - intelligent transport systems, planning - surveys


social media, unplanned passenger rail disruptions, real-time information, international survey


This paper presents research on the role that social media play in the management of unplanned passenger rail disruptions. The study incorporated an international survey of 86 agencies on current practice and a case study on social media use in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Research literature on social media in transit is limited; this paper presents the first analysis of their practical use during unplanned passenger rail disruptions. When disruptions occur, passengers need reliable, up-to-date information, which should be transparent and sympathetic to the impact of delays on passengers. Social media are useful during disruptions, because social media enable concise, real-time information to be provided and enable passengers to make informed, proactive choices in commonly reactive and suboptimal situations. Passengers have greater opportunity to take control of their situation as a result of social media communication. The international survey results indicated that 86% of the agencies used Twitter, 33% used Facebook, and only 12% did not use social media. Twitter was prevalent in high-frequency networks; its real-time nature provided the most appeal. Social media benefited soon-to-travel commuters the most and enabled proactive selection of alternative travel and nontravel options. The needs for support staff resources and skills were identified as impediments to social media deployment. Rail agencies also reported that the management of commuter expectations in the use of social media was a growing concern. A conceptual model for the social media impact on disruptions is developed in the paper on the basis of the research findings. The paper discusses future research and practice opportunities.


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