AI boost for light rail safety

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Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are proving a further boost to tram safety with the development of new software.

As part of a project led and funded by the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board (LRSSB), a new ‘hazard perception technology tool’, similar to that used by the DVLA for car licence testing, but specifically designed to meet the needs of the light rail sector, has been in ongoing development.

Focusing on the particular challenges of driving a guided vehicle with no steering wheel, this innovative programme is designed to immerse users in a digital virtual world. Here they can encounter a variety of both typical and unusual hazards in a recognisable working environment and the sophisticated software has been designed to be run on a mid-range PC (either laptop or desktop).

Steve Duckering, Operations Manager for UKTram – the sector’s representative organisation – is leading the project on behalf of the LRSSB and says the technology marks another significant step forward for light rail.

“Light rail systems are already one of the safest forms of public transport and clearly drivers have an important role to play in further raising standards,” he explained.

“This software, not only has the ability to provide a powerful training tool, but it can also play an important function in recruitment and competency management, helping to identify hazard perception abilities in an objective way.”

Further development, in partnership with training simulation specialists Avansim and other industry partners, will enable the re-creation of a wide range of scenarios, taking into account road user behaviours and the activity of less aware pedestrians.

The scenarios can also be used to familiarise the user with unusual situations that are too difficult or dangerous to reproduce in real life and all from the safety of a virtual world.

The AI controlled pedestrians and vehicles interact realistically with the ‘virtual’ tram to present changes to normal, but identifiable, behaviour that turns everyday activities into hazardous events.

The new software was developed following workshops set up by the LRSSB and training simulation specialists Avansim and can benefit systems of all sizes, from the smallest heritage operations through to major city-based networks.

Although the new system is still at the prototype stage, it is available for demonstration. Tram Operations Limited in Croydon put the prototype through its paces just before ‘lockdown 2’ and provided valuable feedback.