Recommended Practice

Defensive Rail Operations


This recommended practice provides guidance to rail transit agencies (RTAs) for the creation of programs that encourage and promote the defensive operation of trains and other rail transit vehicles. Defensive operation encompasses situational and operational awareness of the operating environment. This document identifies considerations for how an RTA may establish a policy and provide guidance to employees on situational and operational awareness and how to operate trains in a defensive manner so as to minimize the potential for being involved in different types of incidents, while simultaneously improving operational safety and efficiency.

Document History
Document Number Version Publication Date Publication Related Information
APTA RT-OP-RP-030-21 Original 09/28/2021 Published Current


defensive operations, hazard analysis, operating environment, operational awareness, operations, rail transit, rule compliance, safe zone, situational awareness


This recommended practice establishes a framework for the types of programs that RTAs may enact to provide train operators with the guidance and skills that will help them to be more aware of their operating environment. It provides guidance on how RTAs may structure such programs and what content is useful for such a program. It addresses the difference between situational and operational awareness. It addresses a need for developing programs based on the mode of operation and the different designs of the right-of-way, since they all affect what the operator will encounter and must be aware of while operating the train. It introduces the concept of a safe zone—the space around a train that an operator must ensure remains clear of obstructions or people that may come in contact with the train while it is in motion. It addresses fitness for duty and its impacts on awareness, and it provides guidance to RTAs on how to communicate and provide instruction for program expectations.

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