Apprentices learn to fix trains with virtual reality headsets at Northampton academy

The woman wearing the headset is seeing a projection of an engine on the floor which she can walk around.
The woman wearing the headset is seeing a projection of an engine on the floor which she can walk around.
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Apprentices are learning to fix trains using VR technology at Northampton rail engineers academy.

Virtual trains and augmented reality are being used to train rail industry apprentices in a "safe yet practical environment."

Virtual train tracks can teach engineers how to deal with problems before they face the real thing.

Virtual train tracks can teach engineers how to deal with problems before they face the real thing.

The National Training Academy for Rail, off Gladstone Road, Northampton, say the technology is the next step in training railway engineers while encouraging young people to find a career in railways.

Will Smith, 18, from Moulton, is studying for a higher national certificate for engineering.

He said: "I'm used to steam stuff but what I've learned here is a whole lot different. With steam you generally hammer the problem away. Here you get a laptop and plug it in to see what's wrong, with a lot of very technical work."

"It's a sustainable industry with jobs, really. I can move anywhere and find a job in rails there because the railway is all across the country."

Apprentices with Minister for Rail Paul Maynard MP.

Apprentices with Minister for Rail Paul Maynard MP.

By wearing the virtual reality headsets, apprentices can see projections of trains and trackside scenarios that teach them safety skills before moving on to practical examples.

Marcus Hawksworth, 21, a third-year apprentice for Siemens, from Duston, said: "There's such a wide variety of stuff to learn. I had little knowledge when I started with no experience working in a tech industry. Now I've picked up so much and learned so many life skills. Just being better with tools has helped me around the house."

The academy demonstrated the technology to rail minister Paul Raynard MP during a tour of the £7 million facility today.

Mr Maynard said: "There is a massive skills shortage in the rail industry right now and that is a big challenge. The academy here in Northampton is trying very hard to overcome that by providing apprenticeships and training in an industry that will always provide jobs.

Rail minister Paul Maynard inspects a train component with some apprentices.

Rail minister Paul Maynard inspects a train component with some apprentices.

"The VR technology was very impressive and I'm glad I got to try it. It's a new way of teaching that shows apprentices that this is the industry of tomorrow with skills worth acquiring.

"A huge number of people in the industry right now are set to retire in the next decade or so. We have a commitment to providing more apprenticeships and we need these young people to consider a future in rail."

The academy also uses full sized carriages, engines and components to teach the practical side of train engineering.

Jason Pierce, chief executive officer of AD Comms, who offer courses at the academy, said: "We think it's so important to engage the next generation. We have to train them in old technologies while using new tech to train them in a safe environment.

A full-size carriage in the academy workshop for engineers to work on.

A full-size carriage in the academy workshop for engineers to work on.

"We desperately need to pull in the next generation and enthuse them that this is a growing industry with ever-more-advanced technology."