Project Aura: Changing the game

Paul Boyle, head of ERTMS at Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), describes how Project Aura has been revolutionising training across the organisation by harnessing immersive technology to prepare for Digital Railway and the Azuma fleet.

When we started our East Coast franchise in March 2015, we knew we needed to prepare our business for the introduction of our new Virgin Azuma trains in 2018 and the transition to ERTMS (in-cab signaling).

Virgin Trains was already the proud owner of eight CORYS train cab simulators on the east coast, but these were almost a decade old and based on our current fleet at the time. The facilities at VTEC’s four depots hadn’t had a makeover for quite some time and badly needed a spruce up, as well as some technological upgrades.

We split the work into two phases:

  • Phase 1: Upgrade of all the simulator hardware and software along with ERTMS;
  • Phase 2: New Azuma train simulators, laptop simulators, TACTIS (tablet-based instructor application) and SODA (Simulation on Demand).

Having delivered on Phase 1 in July 2016, we got cracking on Phase 2. This was completed in September 2017. Phase 1 of the development involved close collaboration between VTEC, Network Rail and CORYS. Design and testing sessions were held to ensure accurate development of ERTMS for the UK application, with VTEC and Network Rail maintaining review of the ongoing design discussion at the European Railway Agency.

We now have the first ERTMS simulation in the UK that is based on the UK ERTMS reference design as we lead the way in preparing VTEC and the wider industry for the transition to ERTMS operations.

Our simulation technology is already enabling VTEC and the wider rail industry to validate the ERTMS reference design, test industry assumptions and familiarise end-users in advance of operational deployment.The upgrade of the simulators has transformed the fidelity and realism of train modelling. The new 3D computer/gaming technology graphics has added a new dimension to our training and assessment, immersing the driver into each scenario. This will help us produce the best drivers to the highest standard, which will ensure we continue to deliver a safe, reliable and high-performing train service to our customers.

In Phase 2 of Project Aura we have built on our foundations of Phase 1 to ‘change the game for good’ in our world-class learning and development facilities.

In this phase, we have integrated new innovative technology not yet in use in rail training in the world into our four simulator facilities –  King’s Cross, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh – to prepare our business for Azuma and the Digital Railway.

We have installed cab enclosures, which are not quite a full replica cab simulator, but this world-first solution provides a cost-effective way to improve student immersion and looks the part, too.

The laptop simulation, coupled with smart screen technology, brings our simulator to life in the classroom. The mobile simulator management tool, TACTIS, allows close one-to-one coaching interaction with the simulator scenarios and will be invaluable during the Azuma training programme, when a high volume of coaching will be required – this is a UK first.

Another success has been the SODA, which is a tablet-based application that allows the user to interact at their own pace with the Azuma train model and work through simulation exercises in a group environment or as a standalone, which will revolutionise training for our people.

Our simulators technology is a big investment for the business and a vital part of VTEC, helping us deliver a safe, high-performing and reliable train operation day in day out. We need to train and assess our train drivers and people to the highest standards, so that their performance is always in tip-top condition.

The results of Project Aura are quite simply outstanding: all of our drivers who have used the new upgraded facilities think they are fantastic and now feel part of something really special at Virgin Trains.




Andrew JG   05/02/2018 at 04:14

At least the Class 801’s will soon enter service from late this year and new apprentices will feel like a train driver driving a brand new state-of-the-art Azuma train.

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