ATLANTA — Dec. 1, 2020 — If you’re providing nearly 100 million trips for commuters each year, you want to make sure they’re smooth, safe and problem-free – which means operator training is critical. That’s whyTriMet, which provides transit services in the Portland, Oregon, metro area, chose Atlanta’s Foundry 45 to develop virtual reality (VR) training modules that offer all the advantages of real-world experience with increased flexibility and added safety.

TriMet provides light rail vehicle (LRV) operator trainees with classroom plus hands-on training in its rail yard and on its main lines. However, training on the routes themselves needs to be done in a relatively short window of time. And with safety paramount, simulating problems during hands-on training can be difficult. VR training greatly expands the timing and type of training TriMet can provide its operators; trainees are able to learn how to operate LRVs and navigate routes at their own pace and in a safe, simulated environment.

“Virtual reality offers TriMet convenient and highly effective training that also eliminates things like possible equipment damage, vehicle downtime and any safety risks associated with training in a real-world environment,” said Dave Beck, managing partner of Foundry 45, which creates immersive VR training for businesses across the country. “It’s a perfect solution for TriMet’s training needs, and we were delighted to partner with such a forward-thinking organization to create it.”

TriMet piloted the VR training in late October, and feedback from the students who tested it has been very positive. It will officially become part of TriMet’s rail training educational program at the start of 2021.

“VR training offers the benefit of being able to put a student in a situation that would not be safe in real life, like a pedestrian walking across the tracks or an emergency vehicle traveling through an intersection,” TriMet’s Manager of Operations Training Todd Mattson said. “As we develop more virtual reality scenarios based on what our operators actually encounter, it will help keep our light rail system even safer for the communities we serve.”

Realistic VR environments help students learn routes and troubleshoot potential problems

The MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) Light Rail connects Portland City Center with Beaverton, Clackamas, Gresham, Hillsboro, Milwaukie, North/Northeast Portland and Portland International Airport. The VR training is divided into five sections that cover segments of real-life routes.

For those segments, Foundry 45 created simulated environments that include LRV train models, stations, tracks, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road traffic along those routes. Landmarks and equipment have been faithfully recreated in 3D to a level of detail that will help operators quickly recognize them as the objects they’ll see in the real world.

Training, which is conducted via computer and headset, includes simulated activities and situations that operators can encounter, such as obstructed views and gate malfunctions. It also incorporates realistic train and environmental noise, as sound is a key element to creating a convincing immersive environment. A sixth training scenario covers troubleshooting such items as equipment faults and external system failures.

The training allows learners to make mistakes and receive coaching to correct errors. Trainees learn a segment with step-by-step guidance, practice from memory with no guidance, and then take a test, which generates performance data for analysis and tracking by TriMet.