Norfolk Southern is working with apps developer Heartwood 3D to develop and roll out simulation-based training apps to make its operations even safer and its staff training more effective. These apps are already being used by Norfolk Southern and are helping the freight operator reduce some of the space and time constraints posed by conventional training methods. These apps, for example, make it possible for participants to have unlimited repetitions and get targeted feedback in a very safe training environment.
The first pilot of this technology Norfolk Southern launched was a 3D simulator for freight car air-brake inspection, which is a vital skill for conductors and freight car mechanics. Conventionally Norfolk Southern would have to make several freight cars available on site and set aside a large amount of training time to demonstrate this inspection to the trainees, allow them to practise and give them feedback. With the new simulator, however, the trainees can perform virtual inspections and engage with different brake components. Beneficially they can do this anywhere, anytime and on a device such as a tablet or computer.
The trainees can use the simulator to perform a number of tasks required in their field at their own pace and on any device they chose. Following the training session they will be given an evaluation and be informed about where they can improve. They are able to repeat the test as often as necessary.
Norfolk Southern believes that it will train 50–100 freight car repair personnel and 1800 conductors with the help of the simulator this year.
Ryan Foster, Manager Technical Training at Norfolk Southern, said:
“Confidence and mastery demonstrated has noticeably improved. Students loved it, particularly that they can do the task whenever they have time, rather than at a scheduled time.”
Given the success of the air brake-testing app, Norfolk Southern and Heartwood 3D are looking into developing other central training programmes where this innovative approach would work well so that the freight operator would end up with a whole set of 3D training simulators. Norfolk Southern and Heartwood are also working together to make this technology available to other railroads who are interested.
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