Union Pacific Turns Rail Yard Training Into a Virtual Reality

Simulation of Hinkle (Ore.) Yard


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    Jon Jensen from Union Pacific Railroad’s IT transportation application development group explains the various functions the rail yard simulator has to students at the railroad’s training area in Omaha, Neb.

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    Union Pacific employees try their hand at the railroad’s rail yard simulator. UP was instrumental in designing the simulator software that helps employees become more proficient, confident and safe at their new rail yard job.

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    Union Pacific’s rail yard simulator program incorporates virtual technology that gives the new employee views of tracks and their surrounding s that are life-like. The industry track in Cheyenne, Wyo., as it appears in the simulator program (left) and (right) as that track really looks.

  • Audio Clips: Rail Training Simulator

    Comments from Jon Jensen and Steve Bakunas.

Omaha, Neb., January 29, 2009 – How does a 147-year-old railroad company reach out to its modern-era new employees? One answer has turned out to be video simulation that mimics the virtual world of today's video games.

"Video gamers, like those who play Xbox 360TM or PlayStation® 3, feel right at home using Union Pacific's latest training technology," said Scott Hinckley, general director-safety and security. "This is a natural training medium for employees who grew up in the video gaming environment and it enhances their extensive safety and operation training."

Thousands of railroad employees across the country during the last several years have retired. Railroads have hired thousands of employees of all ages to take their place. The challenge: providing the new employees with comprehensive on-the-job training tools to help them become skillful in their new jobs.

In 2005, two Union Pacific employees, Jon Jensen, from the information technology group, and Steve Bakunas, from the rail operations group, began looking for innovative ways to teach new employees that were going to work in rail yards to become more proficient, confident and safe at their new jobs.

Jon and Steve were instrumental in designing computer software that teaches new employees how to maneuver locomotives in rail yards, operate "switches" – those devices that guide a rail car from one track to another – and sort rail cars into different tracks by the rail car destination.

The first program has been such a hit with employees that it is now being used at 45 training locations across Union Pacific's network.

Union Pacific's Information Technologies department worked with P.I. Engineering, based in Williamston, Mich., to develop the training software that incorporates virtual technologies. This software program teaches new railroad employees the decision-making processes needed to accomplish their job assignments in the complex working environment of rail yards.

The first Rail Operations Simulation program (ROS) is a re-creation of Union Pacific's Cheyenne Yard and took two years to develop. The virtual Cheyenne Yard, like its real-life counterpart, is a flat-switching yard and is used by employees throughout the system to learn basic switching operations and railroad terminology.

Working in a rail yard is challenging, to say the least. In a flat switching rail yard, employees sort rail cars into tracks that are assigned a certain destination. A locomotive is attached to a line of rail cars going to various destinations. To get the rail cars into the proper destination tracks, the line of rail cars is pushed by a locomotive on what is called a lead track. When the rail car reaches a certain location at the end of the lead track, an employee quickly stops the locomotive, while at the same time, uncouples a rail car from the line of rail cars. The rail car rolls free and is guided by switches into a track with other cars going to the same destination.

Union Pacific and P.I. Engineering have developed two additional training simulator programs – a simulation program incorporating an incline or "hump" yard and a training package on remote control locomotive operations.

The simulator training tools have proved to be a good fit for new employees. The virtual technology gives the new employee an opportunity to practice what they have learned in the classroom, before they work outside in the real-world rail yard.

What are Jon and Steve, the two UP employees that came up with the idea for these simulator programs, doing now? They're still looking for more real-life or virtual methods of training at Union Pacific for new railroad employees to become more accomplished, sure and careful at their jobs.

About Union Pacific

Union Pacific Corporation owns one of America's leading transportation companies. Its principal operating company, Union Pacific Railroad, links 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country and serves the fastest-growing U.S. population centers. Union Pacific's diversified business mix includes Agricultural Products, Automotive, Chemicals, Energy, Industrial Products and Intermodal. The railroad offers competitive long-haul routes from all major West Coast and Gulf Coast ports to eastern gateways. Union Pacific connects with Canada's rail systems and is the only railroad serving all six major gateways to Mexico, making it North America's premier rail franchise.

For further information, contact Mark Davis at (402) 544-5459.

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