Assessing and Improving Operational Strategies for the Benefit of Passengers in Rail-Bound Urban Transport Systems

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, place - urban, mode - rail, mode - subway/metro, operations - scheduling, operations - performance


Urban rail transit, passenger-focused rescheduling, service control strategy


Unplanned disruptions in transit can have consequent impacts on passengers. The more inconvenienced passengers are, the more likely operators will be negatively impacted. Yet so far, operators and researchers have addressed the rescheduling problem during disruptions mainly with a supply-side focus – timetable, crews, and vehicles – and not with a passenger perspective. Urban rail transit particularly lacks insights in terms of passenger-focused rescheduling. Being able to assess the inconvenience experienced by passengers during disruptions compared with what they normally experience, and being able to compare how different rescheduling strategies affect them are therefore two major challenges. The framework developed in this study precisely aims at tackling these challenges. A case study of the Rotterdam Metro is used to test the framework developed in this paper. Alternative strategies are developed focusing on the incident phase (from the beginning of the incident until its cause is resolved). The application of the framework reveals that a regularity-focused rescheduling strategy would be beneficial for high-frequency service users. Realistically, yearly savings could amount to around €900,000 in terms of societal passenger costs for the operator in the Rotterdam area alone. However, the omnipresence of the punctuality paradigm, through which most operators plan and analyze operations, makes the implementation of passenger-focused strategies a challenging task for traffic controllers. The results of the study are valuable for transit operators worldwide, and the framework could provide decision makers with insights on the performance of different strategies, bringing to light trade-offs between the supply and passenger sides during disruptions.

Passengers can be seriously inconvenienced by unplanned disruptions occurring in transit, that is, major events with “a beginning and an end in time and a location where its effects can be felt” (1). At the beginning of a disruption, traffic controllers decide on and implement a service control strategy, one of the final goals being to restore operations as originally planned. These strategies consist of service control measures that directly affect vehicles and thus passengers. When the implemented strategy results in unfavorable conditions for passengers, rippling adverse publicity and revenue loss may follow for the operator. It is therefore crucial for operators to take a closer look at control strategies and their implementation in non-recurrent conditions.


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