A delay root cause discovery and timetable adjustment model for enhancing the punctuality of railway services

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, operations - reliability, operations - scheduling, operations - performance, planning - service improvement, planning - service quality


Knock-on delay, Root cause discovering, Delay propagation, Machine learning, Railway disruption


Knock-on delay, which is the key factor in punctuality of railway service, is mainly related to two factors including the quality of timetable in the planning phase and disturbances which may result in unscheduled trains’ waiting or meeting in operation phase. If the delay root cause and the interactions among the factors responsible for these can be clearly clarified, then the punctuality of railway operations can be enhanced by taking reactions such as timetable adjustment, rescheduling or rerouting of railway traffic in case of disturbances. These delay reasons can be used to predict the lengths of railway disruptions and effective reactions can be applied in disruption management. In this work, a delay root cause discovery model is proposed, which integrates heterogeneous railway operation data sources to reconstruct the details of the railway operations. A supervised decision tree method following the machine learning and data mining techniques is designed to estimate the key factors in knock-on delays. It discovers the root cause delay factor by logically analyzing the scheduled or un-scheduled trains meetings and overtaking behaviors, and the subsequent delay propagations. Experiment results show that the proposed decision tree can predict the delay reason with the accuracy of 83%, and it can be further enhance to 90% if the delay cause is only considered “prolonged passengers boarding” and “meeting or overtaking” factors. The delay root cause can be discovered by the proposed model, verified by frequency filtering in operation records, and resolved by the adjustment of timetable which is an important reference for the next timetable rescheduling. The results of this study can be applied to railway operation decision support and disruption management, especially with regard to timetable rescheduling, trains resequencing or rerouting, system reliability analysis, and service quality improvements.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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