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TriMet using virtual reality to help train MAX operators

TriMet is using virtual reality to help MAX light rail operators train for potentially dangerous situations without putting anyone in harm’s way.

PORTLAND, Ore — TriMet is one of the first major U.S. transit agencies to use virtual reality (VR) to help train light rail operators. It gives them a virtual hands-on experience earlier in the training cycle and it helps prepare them for potentially dangerous situations without putting anyone in harm’s way.

TriMet has released several over the years showing cars running red lights in front of approaching MAX trains, as well as pedestrians, cyclists, scooter riders and others.

MAX train operators are responsible for the safety of those on their trains and the safety of those outside who may cross paths with a train.

The new virtual reality training helps prepare operators for those inevitable interactions.

"There are situations, scenarios inside the virtual reality program, where people are crossing in front of trains rather suddenly. That's not a situation that we'd be able to recreate in the real world," said TriMet spokesman Tyler Graf.

Trainees get to experience potentially dangerous situations without the threat of real harm. And TriMet can simulate mechanical issues that might stop a train on a live run.

"Our training department can now recreate those scenarios in the program and walk the trainees through what they need to do to get the train back up to speed," said Graf.

Just a few weeks into the experience, MAX-operator-in-training Travis Crawford feels more confident.

"A person could learn that so quickly, by being able to have something that they could just run over time and time again if they needed to, with whatever time they had with the VR," Crawford said. "Doing it several times virtually, you’re gonna know what you’re doing when you’re out there."

A few dozen trainees have already had the virtual reality experience. And their response will lead to improvements in the VR program. TriMet expects this will become a permanent addition to MAX operator training next year.

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Chris McGinness is a meteorologist and transportation reporter for KGW. Got a story idea or a great photo you want to share? Email him at cmcginness@kgw.com or reach out on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram