In Houston, people make illegal left turns in front of the train (going the same direction). We have had many cases where a vehicle driver has passed a train, then made a left turn in front of it. Amazing! When it happens in the same place over and over, it becomes a pattern.
By knowing these patterns, we can instruct our operators to be extra vigilant, maybe wait three seconds before proceeding on a “fresh” signal, or watch for cars coming up on the right side of their train on a “stale” green traffic signal.
Light-Rail Vehicle Simulator
Metro’s light-rail simulator is a huge benefit for training. Strange but true, the simulator started with a cab mock up of our Siemens S70 LRVs. The cab-mock up was sent to us so that we could touch and feel the controls to make any necessary changes prior to receiving our first vehicle back in 2003. Well, what do you do with a full-size cab mock-up when it has already served its purpose? You build a room, buy five big-screen rear-projection televisions to place around the outside of the cab windshield, and call the company that built your bus simulator and ask if they’d be interested in developing a train simulator. Simple!
The simulator is a computer program that graphically displays a simulated view of our actual alignment. It allows us to develop scenarios that put as much or as little as we want into different situations. We can start operators on a normal trip, with no other traffic or pedestrians, to familiarize them with the alignment itself including signals, switches, stations and locations. As they develop their skills, we throw in ambulances, motorcycles, pedestrians and locusts. OK, there are no locusts. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. The simulator gives us options that include settings for day, night, rain, snow, fog and dust.
Each new operator starts out on the simulator and is required to complete 10 hours of operation before graduating to a real LRV. Operators going through the recertification process also spend time on the simulator so the instructor can test them on troubleshooting techniques and other situations in a controlled environment.
Another benefit of the simulator is having the ability to recreate accidents. With video-equipped trains (forward-facing cameras), we are able to download the video from accidents and review them for a variety of purposes and use it to retrain operators.
The simulator has a separate module called a “rabbit car.” The rabbit is a console with a steering wheel, gas pedal, brakes and video monitor to simulate a car ... like in Drivers Ed in high school. The rabbit is a live interjection of a car driving in and out of any scenario.
After viewing the video from an accident, we can mimic the actions of the “other” vehicle by using the rabbit car console. For the operator of the train involved in the accident, we can show how things the driver of the car did should have been a red flag that a collision was about to occur.
What do you do if you don’t have the benefit of a rail simulator? Imagine. No, that’s the answer. Imagine! Let’s face it, being a train operator or engineer can be ... well, boring. Back and forth, up and down, down and up. Four, five, six trips a day. Over and over. Argh! What can you do as a transit operator to turn that time into productive time?
Teach the lost art of using their imagination. In this day of high-tech, mobile, electronic instant gratification, one of the best defensive driving tools is “what-if” scenarios. What would I do if
that car ran the red light? What would I do if that child on the platform broke away from her mother and started toward the edge of the platform? What would I do if the fire truck went around the crossing gate as I approached? What would I do if I came around this corner and saw an opposing train on my track?
The more operators go over scenarios like those, the quicker they will react when faced with a similar situation. Teach that to your operators. Ask them what they would do if a fire truck went around the gates in front of them. Then, have them call out their own “what-if” scenarios as they operate. The more they do it, the faster the answers come. When it does happen, the reaction becomes automatic.