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Website Helps Combat Railroader Fatigue

Under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Volpe developed the Railroaders’ Guide to Healthy Sleep website as a major educational initiative for the railroad industry about the importance of sleep health. This work was done in collaboration with Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine and educational media experts from the WGBH Educational Foundation.

The Challenge

A railroader’s schedule can be unpredictable, often with fewer than two hours’ notice of a work shift that might take him or her on the rails from Boston to Baltimore, traversing 415 miles in the middle of the night. With time at home between runs being short, a choice may need to be made between getting adequate sleep and spending time with family and friends.

When a railroader’s sleep is inadequate, the on-the-job consequences can be fatal. Chronic sleep debt affects brain behavior and the ability to process information. Train crashes have occurred where both crews were asleep and the trains collided, resulting in deaths.

The Solution

Volpe developed the website with invaluable input from industry stakeholders, including two major railroad worker unions; national, regional, short line, and passenger railroads; and FRA’s Office of R&D. Additionally, the project team worked with railroaders, conducting interviews and user testing to ensure that the site would resonate with a railroader audience.

This interactive, multimedia website

  • Aims to reduce fatigue, both on- and off-duty, by educating railroad employees about the importance of obtaining adequate, good-quality sleep for individual health, well-being, and safety
  • Helps railroaders learn their risk of sleep disorders and make informed decisions about sleep, using proven, practical strategies to address the real-world challenges of balancing work and life

The Railroaders' Guide to Healthy Sleep features the following resources:

  • Anonymous Sleep Disorders Screening Tool, which assesses a user’s risk of five common sleep disorders
  • Interviews and videos featuring railroaders and their families, as well as experts in sleep medicine
  • Downloads, such as a sleep-wake diary to track sleep patterns over time
  • Interactive activities that demonstrate the science behind sleep and alertness and the effects of fatigue on performance, and take a closer look at sleep apnea

The Impact

The Railroaders’ Guide to Healthy Sleep was designed with railroaders and their support networks in mind. It aims to help those working schedules that necessitate taking sleep and meals at different times on different days, and that make it difficult to get proper rest and manage social and family responsibilities.

The Railroaders’ Guide to Healthy Sleep has received more than 60,000 visitors since it went live in June 2012. It may be used as a model for promoting sound health and best practices across other transportation modes, and it has been highlighted at a number of invitation-only presentations at industry and labor meetings across the country.

The Railroaders’ Guide is evolving through evaluations, including plans for a field study assessing the impact of using the site for educational purposes, and with ongoing feedback from users, industry, and labor groups.

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013