Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FRA debuts high-tech locomotive simulator

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The Federal Railroad Administration's new Cab Technology Integration Laboratory (CTIL) locomotive simulator “will permit researchers to realistically simulate innumerable conditions and scenarios encountered during railroad operations to help identify safety problems and develop effective solutions,” the agency says. Constructed by Alion Science and Technology, McLean, Va., the  $1.6 million, technologically advanced simulator will be located at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Center in Cambridge, Mass. The CTIL is “intended to serve as a resource for technical collaboration between government, industry, academia, and others to improve train crew decision-making and performance during routine railroad operations.”
 
Among its capabilities, the full-sized locomotive simulator “can accurately record crew behavior through the use of video, audio, and eye-tracking capabilities at the control and button-pushing level,” FRA says. “This allows researchers to carefully observe the actions of train crews, and monitor the corresponding effect of their actions on the simulated locomotive they are operating.” Other features include modeling and visualization technologies, which are “tools to optimize the physical design and configuration of locomotive cabs to enhance crew performance.”
 
Using the CTIL as a laboratory, FRA says it will continue its longstanding research program to analyze the role human factors play in freight and passenger train accidents, injuries and deaths. Specifically, says FRA, the simulator will be used to evaluate the safety and reliability of new locomotive technology systems, controls, and displays prior to their wholesale adoption and use by the railroad industry. The equipment is part of the FRA’s Human Systems Integration (HSI) research and development program, which was created “to minimize the risk of human errors that may lead to an accident” and is “focused on the interface between employees and railroad equipment and infrastructure.”