Great Western Railway (GWR) introduced a new variant of the Class 387 – the GWR 387 AIR – to operate the Heathrow Express service. The Heathrow branch line isn’t fitted with Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS), as the previous stock was fitted with Automatic Train Protection. However, it is fitted with the European Train Control System (ETCS) and therefore to introduce the 387 AIRs on the Heathrow branch they had to be upgraded to include ETCS.
As there are only a handful of other instances of this in-cab signalling and safety system on GB Rail, this caused some challenges to the organisation; notwithstanding the fact that they only had one full cab simulator and to procure an additional one would be expensive and time consuming.
GWR implemented the modifications to their full cab simulator to incorporate ETCS. However, the training team faced a number of issues around the number of people they could get into the cab simultaneously and redundancy of staff if the simulator wasn’t working. At the same time the Covid pandemic hit the UK and this brought further complications to GWR in terms of social distancing.
GWR considered the use of desktop simulators, but as all GWR drivers were issued with tablets, decided to adopt 3DVSL’s existing mobile tablet simulator, upgrading it to include ETCS, as a more flexible solution to support theoretical training.
3DVSL’s mobile tablet simulator offered full flexibility for GWR
GWR already had an existing Class 387 tablet simulator, making it relatively straightforward to create a 387 AIR version and build ETCS scenarios. The benefits of this approach to GWR were extensive:
- The driver didn’t need to be in the building to use it
- Drivers could access it anytime, anywhere
- GWR could easily deploy the ETCS app to all driver tablets
- Users could try it multiple times to familiarise themselves with the ETCS controls and procedures, which meant that when they went to drive the train they could concentrate on the non-technical skills at the same time as they were confident with the ETCS interface
The ETCS mobile tablet simulator from 3DVSL was used by GWR in 2 ways:
- Supporting formal training with a trainer
- Learners learning on their own, using repeating scenarios and managing their own competence
The first feature of the expanded ETCS version of the tablet simulator is the integration with the operational competence reference manual. Unlike the real train, the icons on the DMI can all be displayed at the same time, during the early stages of learning ETCS. Learners can select an icon and see the relevant explanation of its meaning and context from the manual, bringing it to life in a logical, visual and engaging way.
The main benefit of the tablet simulator is to provide bite-sized scenarios that support each individual part of the training. These are used during formal training and thereafter, which helps users to learn at their own pace, encouraging them to use it again for other learning purposes.
A fully blended learning approach
The biggest impact for GWR was the engagement with learners. The ETCS mobile tablet simulator enabled GWR to provide a fully blended learning approach between the formal theory and the hands-on learning and scenarios. Drivers’ confidence is increased through using the app after the formal training is complete and the app helps them to maintain their competence, particularly of degraded scenarios not often encountered ‘on the job’.
Driver Trainer Policy Manager at GWR, Andrew Taylor, said “The 3DVSL ETCS mobile tablet simulator not only reflects the train accurately but is also intuitive to use. The flexibility of the tablet provides users with the ability to learn in a way that suits their individual preferences.”
“3DVSL has a great grasp on what’s required by the rail industry. They don’t just develop the software; they genuinely understand the technical detail by engaging with the relevant standards and technical documentation. This makes the development process productive and rapid, with frequent iterations of features and scenarios, ensuring work is delivered to the exact specification, on time and in budget. Their understanding of learning and development principles means we can integrate the tablet simulator into a fully blended learning approach, which aligns with industry good practice.”