New technology can offer innovative ways to learn positive safety behaviours without exposing people to safety risk unnecessarily. Here, we look at how Motion Rail has adapted its award-winning virtual reality railway, which saw great success as an educational tool for schoolchildren, to improve workplace safety.

Motion Rail developed the ‘Motion Reality’ virtual reality railway along with the Centre of Excellence in Mobile and Emerging Technologies at the University of South Wales and guidance from Network Rail. It uses virtual reality and gamification technology to show school children how to behave safely at level crossings  and the potential consequences if they don’t. Headsets immerse children in the virtual railway, and they must complete a sequence of tasks to cross a virtual level crossing safely – all without the risk of having to go onto the railway itself. Around 300,000 young people have experienced the tool since it was introduced in 2018, and research by the University of South Wales found that rail safety knowledge in children improved by 42% on average after the training. 

Extending the learning 

Following its success, Motion Rail decided to look for more ways to apply the technology, such as making the workplace safer for their own employees. Working with the University, they designed sections of the network, including the Severn Tunnel and four miles of track containing many of the hazards that track workers are likely to experience. They also created a view from the train cab so workers can see what the driver sees too. The gamification technology means workers have an immersive experience, able to interact with the virtual environment. They can pick objects up, make decisions about methods of work and see the consequences of those decisions. They can access safe system of work packs, sighting distance charts and sectional appendix via a virtual iPad tool within the platform. 

Motion Rail use the training in their induction for track and office staff. It’s not used for official competence training – staff still need to attend Network Rail approved training days – but it helps maintain competence and provide refresher training, especially for those who don’t go out on track regularly.   

Implementation  

As with any emerging technology there are pros and cons. While children adapted very quickly to the immersive gamification experience, some staff members took a little longer to adjust. The virtual environment felt a little disturbing for some, and there was also the impact of seeing ‘first-hand’ the potential consequences of individual actions in such an immediate manner. Over time, most became accustomed to being taken outside their comfort zone, and the benefits of learning in a low risk environment compensated for this.   

While it has a lot of potential to help people practise new skills and embed knowledge, there will always be a balance between virtual and live training.  For example, most train drivers will learn in a simulator, but still need to drive an actual train as part of their training – and the same applies for track workers.    

What’s next? 

Motion Rail hopes, over time, to use laser mapping technology currently being rolled out on the railway network. This will enable the company to re-create exact route replication to show particular hazards in known risk spots, helping workers anticipate them and practise how to deal with them. There’s also the potential to use the technology to aid with safe work planning, such as taking isolations or track possessions. By adding data such as growth and seasonal vegetation growth rates, Motion Rail hopes to use the tool to assess sighting distances and demonstrate how access and egress can change throughout different times of the year.   

To find out more about Motion Rail’s work in virtual reality training please contact Emma Dymond at info@motionrail.co.uk