During work on or around tracks open to traffic, some Infrabel employees have a critical job: keeping maintenance teams safe while they work. When a train approaches, one of these “lookouts” will raise the alarm, ordering everyone to clear the area immediately. Now Infrabel has developed a tool which is unique in Europe to help with their training: a 3D simulator which reproduces their working environment and exposes them to hazardous situations.
Lookouts - A vital link in the safety chain
Some 2600 members of Infrabel staff are certified lookouts. They play a vital role, ensuring the safety of maintenance teams working on or close to tracks open to traffic. The lookouts mean the team can focus exclusively on executing the work. Depending on the work to be done or the layout of the area, one or more lookouts may be posted along the tracks, spotting approaching trains, raising the alarm in good time, thereby enabling maintenance teams to beat a safe and orderly retreat from the track area.
If need be, lookouts may stop the train by holding up a “stop” sign for the driver.
The 3D simulator: a revolution
From March 2017, Infrabel will be Europe’s first rail infrastructure manager to give its staff the use of a 3D simulator. Use of the tool - which was developed in Belgium - will henceforth form part of lookouts’ training.
The simulator reproduces the working environment by projecting realistic images onto the three walls, plus the floor. The user sees the tracks, the team at work, the trains, other lookouts, and a general backdrop. There are also sophisticated sound effects. Learners have available to them all the standard lookout equipment, such as horns and flags.
To make the simulation more lifelike, the head tracking system sees learners wearing goggles to make them feel they are really in the simulated environment: total immersion. Once the simulation begins, depending on the scenario selected the learner may be exposed to normal situations but also to disruptive events and “downgraded” situations. A central log automatically records users’ reactions and whether they use their equipment correctly. The behaviour recorded then influences what happens next - the system adjusts the “plot” of the simulation accordingly.
The 3D simulator can therefore expose learners to all sorts of situations and analyse their performance. This can then be screened to the rest of the class so that strengths, weaknesses and any errors can be discussed.
Initially, new recruits will enjoy the benefits of the 3D simulator as part of their basic training, enabling them to qualify as lookouts more quickly. It will also be used as part of continuous training, the target being for every lookout to be appraised by simulator every three years.