Jan. 25, 2002

Lab's expertise helps keep BART's training modules on track

With the successful development of computer-based training modules for its train operators, BART hopes to now move forward with developing or purchasing a full-scale simulator, officials said at a ceremony in Dublin last week.

The Train Operator Training Simulator project is a partnership between BART, the Lab, Chabot Las Positas Community College District and the Economic Development Alliance for Business (EDAB) to develop virtual reality training for BART train operators.

"We’re extremely pleased with the progress we’ve made so far," said Pete Snyder, BART board vice president. "A simulator would bring future trainees into a virtual world of actual operation. Simulating the operation of a train and all of the functions that must be performed in any given situation will accelerate the trainee’s experience and comfort level for actual operation."

More than 50 people, including representatives from BART, LLNL, the college district, EDAB and Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s office, were on hand at Friday’s ceremony to celebrate the partnership’s second milestone.

The first phase was a comprehensive assessment to determine what facets of the current training program should be simulated. The second phase was to develop computer modules with specially designed software, which concentrated on a few complex areas of an operator’s typical training cycle.

The third phase will be to purchase a simulator or have one specially designed to meet BART’s needs. BART estimates that a full-scale simulator will cost between $500,000 and $3 million.

"We need to be on the cutting edge of technology," said Cal Coleman, BART’s manager of operations, training and development. "Simulators are used for planes, trains and trucks. It’s time for rapid transit to join the ranks. We have to create scenarios that you can’t do in real life and have them practice it many times."

As trains have gotten more technologically advanced, the training time for operators has nearly doubled, Coleman said. In 1987, training took nine weeks; today it takes 15 weeks and that is still not enough time, he added. In addition, training time on the trains has been reduced because of increased service schedules.

"When you are standing on the platform and waiting for your chauffeured, $50 million limousine, you have the expectation that you will get to your destination safely," Coleman said. "We train the ‘oops’ out of our train operators."

Lab engineers are serving as technical advisers for the project. Peggy Poggio, who is the principal investigator for the Lab, is working with Bill Lennon and Fred Strange to advise BART as it selects a vendor to develop a full-scale simulator. Karen Kiernan of the Public Affairs Office manages the memorandum of agreement for the Lab.

"We are impartial, but highly qualified technical advisers," said Laura Gilliom, director of the Lab’s University Relations Program. "That’s a piece of the role we played in this project. We do it in the spirit of public service."