“We put out an RFP and had a lot of interest in this project,” said Todd Mattson, TriMet’s Manager of Training Operations. “Ultimately, we felt Foundry 45 had the ability to create what we were looking for, not only on the learning and development side but also with their ability to build out a virtual world that recreates the environments in which they will be operating.”
Since TriMet is the first light rail property to develop a light rail vehicle simulator, they have been working closely with Foundry 45 to build the program. Prior to COVID-19, TriMet was using a full-scale simulator to train bus operators. However, TriMet decided virtual reality was the better choice for training light rail operators because of several factors.
“One important setback was the pandemic and the limitation of onsite visits,” said Mattson. “We had to go to the drawing board to figure out how we would complete user testing remotely. Throughout the entire process, they were very patient. They have listened to the feedback we provided and been available to get it right from day one.”
Based on an internal needs assessment and recommendations from consultants, TriMet’s training gurus determined that a better training method was necessary.
“Their [consultanting] suggestions focused on how we could make continuous improvements, based on best practices within the transit industry, to get past the operational barriers that exist when training light rail operators. Of course, the challenge that any transit agency faces when training operators is that light rail equipment is very large and technical,” said Mattson.
“One of the main reasons we chose to pursue virtual reality to help train light rail operators was because of its flexibility,” said Mattson. “At TriMet, we have five different light rail vehicle models, so, given the cost of a full-scale simulator, it wasn’t feasible to go in that direction, nor did it meet our training needs.”
Rail operators are trained both in the classroom and using hands-on training in the field, with students operating a train. Although not fully implemented yet, virtual reality will mitigate problems such as lack of equipment availability and inclement weather.
“It’s a safe environment for students to get acclimated to the equipment as they encounter scenarios that would be hard to recreate in a traditional setting,” said Mattson. “It gives the student the ability to go over scenarios multiple times, and that repetition helps students build confidence in their own knowledge.”
Mattson said the Oregon community is very supportive of public transit, with a population that very much relies on TriMet’s services. TriMet uses a combination of buses and rail operations to connect its community across a 533-square mile service area. It takes careful planning to coordinate training efforts over such a vast area.
“We try to spread out our resources to complete training needs within the organization between the different facilities we have,” said Mattson. “We rotate our training classes across two separate rail yards with trainers located at each yard. This provides efficiency in training new operators and supports our current pool of qualified rail operators with their training needs.”
The partnership between TriMet and Foundry 45 is a worthwhile investment for the future of light rail, according to Mattson.
“Foundry 45 has taken the vision we had in the beginning for the simulator and made it a fully functioning VR training program,” said Mattson. “Our mission at TriMet is to connect people with valued mobility options that are safe, convenient, reliable, accessible, and welcoming for all. Investing in our employee’s training will help us achieve that mission.”