A national railway operator faced a challenge. A temporary change in the timetable was predicted to cause a great deal of congestion on the platforms at a specific station. This would result in potentially dangerous situations for passengers. For this reason, it was decided to deploy specialised crowd control personnel in addition to the conductors. These were recruited from security and service personnel of other transport organisations. So they were already experienced in part of the task, but certainly not all of it.
How could some 120 people be prepared for this role within a short period of time? The risks were so great and the time frame so short that regular security companies did not dare to follow a traditional training approach.
Our first step was to use the current staff to map out exactly what the work involved. It soon became clear that there were three core tasks with successive levels of difficulty: providing service to passengers (e.g. referring to a different departure track or informing them about delays), closing part of the platform (e.g. asking passengers to move) and evacuating and closing the entire platform (the 'worst case scenario'). With specialised safety and service professionals, we prepared detailed work instructions for each core task.
To make the training as realistic as possible, we chose to have it take place at the station in question, on a Sunday - traditionally a quiet travel day. The crowd control operators practiced in 20-minute sessions on the platform. Each time, the focus was on a specific task, with an increasing level of difficulty. While practicing, the operators were filmed, and immediately afterwards they watched these images, in the staff room. Together with the trainers, they looked very carefully at the images, all the time with two questions in mind: what went well? And what can be improved? This was the basis on which the participants then practised again. They no longer had to do what they already could, but focused very specifically on what was still difficult for them. By continuously measuring progress and making this visible, self-confidence grew. By alternating action with reflection and then by repeatedly practicing the task that they did not yet master (the principle of deliberate practice), people quickly became more proficient at the job.
The colleagues on the platform were not the only ones involved in the work process. Crowd control was directed from the control room. There, people had an overview and could, for example, decide to evacuate part of the platform. The control room colleagues therefore participated in the exercises and learned how best to communicate with the colleagues on the platforms. Both groups were also enabled to get to know each other in person during a professional speed-date and lunch we organised at the end of the session.
After four days, this targeted training approach resulted in 120 trained crowd control colleagues. They felt competent and well prepared, partly because they had been trained in worst-case scenarios. Because the people in the control room had participated and they had also met in person, there was peace and confidence in the organisation. In fact, there was enthusiasm to get to work. The subsequent introduction of the new timetable went without a hitch.