Simulator technology has proven to be a game-changer in training transit vehicle operators. Although we’ve seen these benefits throughout the transit sector, rail transit operators may reap some of the greatest rewards.
Nigel Lindsey-King is a transit training professional and former Superintended of Surface Transportation Training for the Toronto Transit Commission. He has decades of experience with public transit—as an operator, trainer, and administrator. In his experience, although operating a bus is a big leap from driving a car, there is at least some fundamental connection between the two.
“If you’re driving a bus,” Lindsay-King explains, “you’re still essentially operating within the same environment: you’re a rubber-wheeled vehicle, and you’ve got a steering wheel in front of you, and you’re following the familiar standard rules of the road. But if you’re working in rail, now you’ve got a completely different set of controls in an entirely different environment, one that’s absolutely alien to driving out on the street. … A simulator is something that can really help someone get over that initial disorientation.”
Simulator Training Speeds Adaptation to an “Alien Environment”
“Think about when you buy a new car,” Lindsey-King continues. “You’re not entirely sure, at first, just how much space that vehicle occupies.” As a result, you scrub your tires on the curb, or maybe nick your mirror on the edge of the garage. “But after you drive it for a while, you develop a feel for where the corners are.”
In effect, you’ve “extended your senses” to encompass the vehicle. Making those mistakes—cutting the turn too tightly, snugging in too closely to that parking meter—is a vital part of extending your senses out to the limits of the vehicle.
In a light-rail situation, this acclimation is much more challenging. It’s not just that a commuter train is 3,000 times heavier—making “mistakes” all the more dangerous. It’s also that everyone outside the vehicle interacts with a train so much different from any other vehicle on the road—often with terrible results.
When operating light rail “You’ve got to be aware of everything that’s going on around your vehicle,” Lindsey-King explains. The operator must learn to be constantly vigilant, and “extend your senses out to the limits of this new vehicle … watching that space that you are occupying, and making sure that you have the time and the space to stop if someone does something crazy in front of you. People will run to get out of the way of a car or bus—even a bicycle!—but they walk to get out of the way of a streetcar. It’s crazy.”
This is where simulation training has truly transformed—and accelerated—the learning experience for rail operators. “Because you’re in a safe environment, you can afford to make those mistakes”—without risk to yourself, equipment, or the public.