HomeRail NewsReducing access time - train cab simulator systems

Reducing access time – train cab simulator systems

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Train Cab Simulator Systems have come a long way since I drove one at London Transport’s Railway Training Centre at White City in the early 1970s. It was a representation of a Piccadilly line train and unlike most of today’s train simulators, it was a full motion simulator. It had hydraulic actuators to move the simulator to represent horizontal and lateral acceleration.

It covered the section from Hammersmith to Acton Town and the video was from a 16mm film that had been captured from the front of a train. One of its few scenarios available was to set the gradient. Setting the system for a 1 in 30 down gradient and running at full power certainly provided a lively ride.

Since then, Train Cab Simulator Systems havedevelopedratheralot(typicalBritish understatement), and whilst they usually no longer require the full motion experience, they have developed in ways that were unimaginable back then. It is no longer a question of

providing a simulator, but of providing a training environment to meet defined requirements based on training needs analysis. There will generally be a 1:1 representation of a cab, some sort of wide screen video display, an instructor’s console and usually a classroom environment so that delegates can learn from each other’s driving.

It is easy enough to build a cab replica with functioning controls, but it is far from trivial to make it feel like the real thing and immerse the driver into a high-fidelity experience. All sorts of tricks are played on the senses to convince the trainee that the train is moving. In many ways, the requirement is similar to the immersive experience that video gamers seek. Like video games, the sound and video experience is key to the simulation.

Rail Engineer was invited by Dave Bradshaw, Business Development Manager UK and Europe for Sydac, one of the world’s leading developers of driver training simulation and part of the Knorr Bremse group, to see two of the latest simulators which Sydac have recently designed, developed and commissioned into two UK Train Operating Companies. The visit, to the Intercity ExpressClass800/1(GWR)andtheClass345 (for Transport for London’s new Elizabeth line) simulators, provided the opportunity to try them out and to talk to people involved in their use.

GWR’s Challenge

Why do operators value simulators so much? Surely an operator can commandeer a train and use it to train the drivers? That was true in the past but is certainly not true today, as Brian Clark Senior Simulator Manager, GWR explained at their training facility in Reading. He should know, with 37 years’ experience of driving and training on many classes of trains too numerous to list here.

Brian said ”whilst there is nothing like the real thing for gaining the “feel” of the train, that “seat of the pants” effect when accelerating and braking, most other training interventions can be carried out in a simulator”. The training tasks include:

» Aptitude testing
» Basic conversion from one type of train to another for experienced drivers
» Practicing activities that cannot reasonably be tried on the main line, especially in degraded and recovery modes
» Ongoing competence assessment
» Refresher training to practice skills not routinely used.
» Practicing signalling and safety procedures and protocols

Brian described the enormous scale of training

facing GWR over the next few years. Drivers used to class 165/6 trains will have to learn the class 387 and Class 800 series, those used to HST have to learn Class 800 series, those used to older diesel units including Pacers will have to learn to drive class 165 and some drivers used to class 150 will have to learn HSTs for Devon and Cornwall services. In short, all of their 1200 drivers will require retraining as a result of the cascade associated with electrification and introduction of the new trains.

On top of this is the training required for instructors themselves, driver managers, guards and train managers. This is in addition to basic training for new recruits and refresher training for existing drivers.

Brian said that GWR would never be able to complete all this training without the simulators, and even so it is a major planning job to get it all completed in time without harming the routine service.

One of the advantages of simulators is that they can even be used to start training before any trains have been built. For GWR this meant that they have also been to get on with their preparation and early training whilst awaiting access to the real hardware as the Class 800 series is still undergoing testing and commissioning.

Safety Research

We discussed several uses for the simulators in addition to their training role. Increasingly, Human Factors engineers focusing on railways safety are using simulators to identify how changes in railway systems or operations affect driver behaviour. As an example, drivers currently observe signals though the windscreen and process their response to the signal whilst maintaining their view of the way ahead.

ETCS will require the driver to look at the in-cab displays more often, particularly so when lineside signals are eventually eliminated. What will be the effect on driver behaviour/ performance? This is an area that can be tested and observed with representative groups of drivers using simulated scenarios and can deliver much more data than could ever be collected in service.

This is just one example where the effect on driver behaviour of changes in technology might be tested in the simulator.

The general principles of both simulators were the same. The description of the Class 800 simulator below illustrates the principles. The Elizabeth line simulator description highlights the differences between the two. These differences are more about the design of the train and cab than differences in the simulation.

GWR Inter City Express Simulator

The Class 800 simulator contains a faithful 1:1 representation of the Class 800 cab using genuine, functioning controls that were provided by the same companies that supply Hitachi, mounted on a replica drivers desk constructed by Sydac. The simulator has a large enclosure which allows the cab to be in darkness, if required, without having to black out the room in which it is housed. This is an improvement on even comparatively modern simulators and has been enabled by the adaption of large high definition flat screen monitors instead of video projectors used previously.

The cab included the following:

» The spacious full width Class 800 cab behind a huge windscreen
» A main display screen measuring 213cm over the diagonal displaying detailed video imagery of GWR track network.
» Use of additional video displays on both side windows to provide a comprehensive visual driving experience.
» All the controls including a GW-ATP interface/speedometer, a display for future ETCS, GSM-R radio, selectors for electric power and for diesel power, the Train Management System touch screen monitor. These are positioned in an arc in front of the driver,
» Touch screen monitors displaying simulations of the body mounted cameras),
» Controls for accessing saloon CCTV including simulations of the saloon cameras
» Driver’s and instructor’s seats
» Isolation switches and miniature circuit breakers on the cab backwall.
» smaller flat screen displays visible in the side windows
» A touch screen display outside the enclosure representing all the train equipment that a driver may need to access outside the cab, for example to rectify train faults.
» Controls and displays in the classroom outside the simulator room to allow the instructor to set up training scenarios and for other delegates to see how their colleague is performing.

Elizabeth line Class 345

The trainees using these simulators are MTR Crossrail drivers that will drive the Class 345s initially between Liverpool Street and Shenfield before the Elizabeth line opens through central London from December 2018.

Ultimately 400 drivers will be needed across the railway.This is another full width Train Cab Simulator System, of similar size to the Class 800. The main differences are that:

1. There is no requirement for GW-ATP, but it will have to operate on ETCS level 2 in the Heathrow tunnels, Siemens Trainguard MT CBTC on the central, mainly tunnel section, and AWS/TPWS everywhere else. The driver’s interface with the signalling is largely contained in a single touch screen Human Machine Interface.

2. DOO CCTV incorporates cameras on the platforms which transmit images to the train, again faithfully reproduced and simulated.

Andrew Tucker of Sydac at the Elizabeth line instructor’s console.

Andrew Tucker, Sydac’s Support Engineer for London demonstrated how the controls can be manipulated by the instructor to make the trainee’s task easier or harder.

Train Cab Simulator Systems: Engineering and Simulation

The standard Sydac hardware and software platform used by both simulators includes industrial PC type computers running the Windows operating system. The CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) of both GWR and Elizabeth line track network are developed using UniGine – a proprietary world leading vision engine. Also, in common with the vast majority of UK train simulators, these are static; however, the sensation of motion is convincingly conveyed by sound and vision alone.

Dave Bradshaw emphasised the importance of obtaining the original parts (such as traction brake controllers) usually from the train manufacturer, to ensure that the simulator provides a life-like experience. Krystian Malinowski, Sydac’s Support Engineer for the western area described the bespoke electronics that are usually necessary to interface these train parts to the simulator.

Moreover, a huge effort goes into the video simulations. It is no longer acceptable to simply film the line and use that although such video capture is used to help develop the CGI. In response to the obvious question, Dave Bradshaw said that it is easier to control the variable elements, such as the layout of points and signal aspects, weather and day/night in a CGI simulation rather than in video. Equally, once the elements have been modelled in CGI, they can easily be adjusted. For example, if a new building is erected or demolished, it can easily be inserted into or removed from the simulation.

Another important advantage of creating a virtual CGI world is the ability to train staff on track infrastructure that is not yet there in the real world. (e.g. the Elizabeth line underground sections where track is currently being laid or the GWR Paddington to Swindon simulation includes all overhead electrification in anticipation of it being completed). Brian Clark added that the flexibility of making some of the key features a little larger than scale size such as iconic buildings or locations drivers might use as braking cues.

CGI simulations are built using a number of data sources; cab video, scale plans of the track (curvature, gradients, points, signals, stations), and information from sources such as Google Maps and Google Earth. Some operators want a faithful model of a route and for these a faithful rendering of lineside features is provided. The technical name for this is “geo-specific” and for GWR’s Class 800, Paddington to Swindon has been simulated as a geo-specific simulation.

One huge advantage of simulators is to give drivers the chance to practice activities that they will only rarely experience in service, and those that cannot be safely practiced on real trains. This helps them to be prepared for the unexpected. Such events may be uncommon but they do happen, and amongst GWR’s and MTR Crossrail’s numerous drivers they will happen. The Elizabeth line and GWR simulators prepare drivers for the time it happens to them.

The whole system – train controls, video simulation and performance rules have to operate like a real train. For example, signing in and booting the train has to be exactly like the real train and failure to respond to AWS must apply the emergency brake. A particularly satisfying feature of the Class 345 simulation was when it was stopped in a station. When the doors were enabled, the front, side and DOO monitors all faithfully showed people moving to and from the doors on the various displays but each image was correct for the context and angle appropriate for that display. Moreover, the simulated people reacted correctly after I stopped the train short of the official stopping point.

At the time of the Rail Engineer’s visit the Class 387 simulator was in use, and we watched from the instructor’s workstation whilst the driver stopped the train short of a sheep standing in the 4-foot. As the train stopped, the sheep vanished, but I was assured that the instructor usually makes the sheep walk off the track if, for example, the trainee blows the horn. This is just one example of how the simulation responds to the actions of the trainee and the instructor.

Teamwork and Support

Everyone I spoke to emphasised the close co-operation/collaboration that is required during the design and development of the simulator. All the stakeholders; the train supplier, simulator supplier, the user, and Network Rail need to work together if the simulator is to be a successful tool. Dave Bradshaw commented that this level of collaboration between stakeholders made the design and development of both the GWR Class 800 and TfL’s Class 345 very successful projects. They emphasised the importance of a willingness to iterate if the simulator is to be a faithful replica of the train. Indeed, although the Class 345 and Class 800 simulators are fully functioning, they cannot be fully validated as representing the real trains whilst the trains are still being fine-tuned.

The Sydac engineers explained that they use the train manufacturers’ detailed specifications to design the simulations and that sometimes the simulator is found to work differently from the train. These issues clearly need to be sorted out, but with the increasing complexity of train systems it must be helpful for the train manufacturer to have effectively an independent group validating their specifications.

Once the simulator is up and running, it is important that it is supported. Dave Bradshaw said that all Sydac’s simulators in the UK are covered by support contracts for the hardware & software and that they would usually expect to refresh hardware & software every seven to nine years. Brian Clark added that probably the single biggest source of unreliability has been eliminated by the move to flat screen monitors rather than video projectors and their expensive short life bulbs which always failed at exactly the wrong time.

At the time of acceptance of the simulators, It is impossible to anticipate the number or scope of future train or infrastructure modifications which will need to be incorporated into the simulators to ensure their continued fidelity. It is usual to commission these as required via a bespoke maintenance and support agreement. These software updates are quickly and easily uploaded via a secure internet connection by the Sydac software development engineering team at a mutually agreed time to ensure minimum disruption to the simulator training programme.


In conclusion, I should answer the key question. Was I convinced by the simulation? At first, I was disconcerted by the lack of any sense of motion other than through the CGI. However, the feeling soon passed, and, particularly in the Class 345 simulator I was routinely stopping accurately at stations. The experience of interrogating the various touch screen monitors was very lifelike.

However, the overwhelming benefit has to be the ability to practice scenarios in a realistic environment that it is unreasonable to practice on real trains. As technology increases the complexity of rolling stock and the signalling used, then technology must be used to develop very safe and experienced drivers, I am convinced that driver training simulators can be utilised to achieve this and complement the “on board” training.

Finally, back to Brian Clark and his challenge; there is clearly no way he will deliver the training required to all GWR’s drivers and their colleagues without the simulators. That alone demonstrates their value.

Rob Cotton, New Trains Director from MTR Crossrail said “The Elizabeth line simulators are indeed a state of the art product which will ensure our drivers are prepared and trained ready for when the new vehicles are introduced into operational service. Only by close collaboration of the teams from Sydac, Bombardier and MTR has this been possible”

Joe Bednall, Project Director, Bombardier said “The Bombardier team involved in the Crossrail simulator project worked closely with both Sydac and MTR to ensure the simulators were delivered on time and to the satisfaction of the operator MTR Crossrail.”

Thanks go to Sydac’s Dave Bradshaw for organising the visits, and to Brian Clark of GWR for hosting us at Reading. Thanks also to Krystian Malinowski and Andrew Tucker from Sydac.

Written by Malcolm Dobell


  1. Unfortunately doesn’t simulate someone banging on the door and a shout of “Excuse me driver are we gonna be stopped here much longer”.


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