When train operators at San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit claim it takes about three years before they feel confident doing their jobs, it’s time to re-evaluate their training program.
That is the conclusion BART officials arrived at after taking a survey of train operators that revealed they might not be adequately prepared to face real-life on-the-job challenges. BART training officials believe a new virtual-reality program will go a long way in correcting the problem.
“If we have better trained operators, we have increased safety and better customer service,” said Calvin Coleman, BART’s manager of operations training and development. The Train Operators Training Simulator will duplicate scenarios operators could face on the job, such as inclement weather, engine failures and even terrorist attacks. Repeated simulator experience will enable operators to hone their skills until their responses become automatic.
Currently, BART’s program consists of 11 weeks of classroom learning, followed by four weeks of on-the-job training with an experienced operator. Pete Snyder, BART board member, told the Oakland Tribune he knew something had to be done after visiting a training facility and finding it was basically a console laid out on a classroom table. According to Coleman, officials recognized the need in 1995 to incorporate new technology into the program and boost practice time. Since then, with the help of a state grant, they have been taking steps to improve BART’s training procedures.
BART is seeking funding for the project, as well as companies to partner with in creating the software. The plan is to have software and computer work stations completed within a year, and then to work toward establishing four simulators. These will cost from $3 million to $5 million each and will have walk-in graphics, creating a virtual world to simulate all BART lines.