Using virtual reality to improve safety

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

Matthew Long, driver trainer and VR project manager at Arriva Trains Wales, discusses how the industry’s first-ever virtual reality (VR) simulator for platform train interface (PTI) training has developed and what this could mean for customer safety going forward.

The PTI currently represents one of the highest risks to the safety of our staff and customers when using our trains and stations, with a large number of serious incidents and injuries occurring every year. PTI incidents include being trapped in doors, falling when boarding or alighting, falling off the platform or coming into contact with a moving train. 

In response to this, we were keen to find a way of reducing and preventing PTI risks and incidents across our network and hopefully to then share our developments with the industry. 

The project began by conducting research into PTI risks and incidents. We used our own safety and financial data, as well as data collected from the industry, particularly from the RSSB’s publications around PTI risks and incidents. We also conducted staff surveys to collect vital information from our frontline staff. From this vast amount of data, we were able to identify key areas where we could improve safety and reduce incidents at the PTI through enhanced staff training and development. 

From our research we concluded that the majority of PTI incidents occur as the result of behaviours or a lack of non-technical skills. When considering customer behaviours, we broadly split these into two categories. The first category is for behaviours that the customer has control over, such as intoxication, distraction due to using mobile devices or standing close to the platform edge. The second category is for behaviours influenced by the station environment or the actions of our staff. These are things that the customer has less control over and could include station layouts, signage, announcements, train types, etc. 

All of these behaviours have associated risks that could lead to a PTI incident. However, they can all be managed or mitigated by our staff, providing we give them the ‘tools in the toolbox’ to do so. This is what this project aims to achieve. 

VR simulator for PTI training 

Working in partnership with a technology provider, Virtual Reality Simulation Systems (VRSS) Ltd, we began development of the industry’s first-ever VR simulator for PTI training. The simulator uses a Computer Augmented Virtual Environment (CAVE), which consists of a three-walled projection room, creating a totally immersive VR environment. 

Within this environment, the user can navigate around a VR station using a handheld gaming controller, which we hope to replace in the future with gesture control technology. Interactions with objects and customers can be made using the on-screen cursor by selecting the object or character and choosing the required interaction. 

To develop the simulation, we created a working group of project champions using volunteers from conductor, driver, station and management grades of staff. This champions team has been vital to the success of this project, working closely with myself and the team at VRSS throughout the development process. 

To add to the realism of the VR simulation, we worked in partnership with Armstrong Powerhouse, a small company that creates audio and graphics add-on packs for rail simulator games. Armstrong Powerhouse recorded and edited audio files from all of our rolling stock types and helped to incorporate them into the simulator software. 

The PTI simulator allows the user to carry out role duty activities as a conductor or dispatcher, interacting with customers, objects and trains. We can simulate many different scenarios with planned learning outcomes, such as customer enquiries, customer assistance, objects caught in doors or customers falling on the track. Each scenario is developed to incorporate key learning points that will develop the non-technical skills needed for risk identification and mitigation. 

The purpose of the training is to develop our staff so that they are more confident and proactive at identifying and managing risks at the PTI. The training will encourage positive interactions with our customers, giving our staff the confidence to challenge unsafe behaviours or to offer advice and assistance. 

The simulated training is supported by a robust training course which is linked to competency standard criteria. Data from the simulator can be extracted and submitted as evidence of training or competency. We will also use this data to enable us to plan further software and scenario development. 

The PTI simulator is currently being trialled at our Cardiff and Chester training centres and we welcome enquiries from other TOCs who may be interested in taking up this technology for themselves.

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