Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Uncertainty in the psychological factors and its impact on rail passenger’s travel mode choice in Great Britain

  Carina Yu Zhao (2021 cohort)

Trains, which, as one the safest and most environmentally friendly ways to travel (UIC, 2021), allow large numbers of people to move medium and long distances quickly at the same time, are an important transport mode in Great Britain (Williams-Rail-Review, 2019). However, due to rail’s high fixed costs of track, and signal and station infrastructure, which do not change significantly with passenger numbers, transport by rail is not cost-efficient when service demand is low. Therefore, keeping the rail service demand at a high level will help ensure that the rail industry can provide high quality service sustainably.

There has been a large amount of research focused on understanding people’s transportation mode choices. As such, research can help transportation service providers better understand and attract their customers, as well as provide better services where they are most needed (Komarov, 2004; Lee et al., 2003; Scherer and Zurich, 2012; Hasiak and Hasiak, 2016; Hasiak et al., 2016).

This research will focus on designing methods for capturing and analysing the uncertainties in psychological factors that have an impact on people’s train travel decisions using an inter-disciplinary lens (Computer Science, Human Factors, Psychology and potentially consumer behaviour). This would require the use of mixed methods research that involves both qualitative (such as interview and focus groups) and quantitative research method (such as interval based questionnaire - see Ellerby et al. (2021) for further details) that are
specifically designed for capturing and analyzing psychological uncertainties.

The outcome of this research could better capture traveller mode preference, assist the rail industry to understand the role of psychological uncertainty in travel mode choices, and provide possibilities for the rail industry to address/improve/clarify and even utilize areas their customers and potential customers are uncertain about, as well as target ’uncertain’ riders/non-riders to provide better service and attract them to take the train.


Ellerby, Z., Wagner, C., and Broomell, S. B. (2021). Capturing richer information: On establishing the validity of an interval-valued survey response mode. Behavior Research Methods.

Hasiak, S. and Hasiak, F. (2016). Understanding rail mobility: are there some links between modal shift to rail services and image of the train?

Hasiak, S., Hasiak, F., and Egea, A. (2016). Coach and train: Differences in individuals perception of these modes. volume 14, pages 1706–1715. Elsevier B.V.

Komarov, K. (2004). Choice between private car and public transport: modeling in view of influence of psychological factor.

Lee, B., Fujiwara, A., and Zhang, J. (2003). A hybrid discrete choice model with fuzziness.
Scherer, M. and Zurich, E. (2012). Bus or rail: An approach to explain the psychological rail factor. Journal of Public Transportation, 15(1).

UIC (2021). Mobility post-covid: An opportunity for railways lessons learned and recommendations to give railways a central role in future travel choices.

Williams Rail Review (2019). The role of the railway in Great Britain.