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One of the world's oldest stations to be redeveloped with help of virtual reality.  

Posted by Luke Upton on Sep 5, 2016

Virtual reality visual of the future aerial view at Liverpool Lime Street   (Pic courtesy of Network Rail)Opened in 1836, Liverpool Lime Street is one of the oldest railway stations in the world but its redevelopment will harness one of the very latest technologies, virtual reality. The main station serving the city of Liverpool in England, is shortly to undergo major work to transform it to meet the needs of the growing numbers of passengers who use it every year. As part of the Network Rail (the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the rail network in the UK ncluding Lime Street) Railway Upgrade Plan, £340m is being spent across Merseyside to improve the railway for passengers, including changing the layout and length of Lime Street’s platforms to accommodate more and longer trains and upgrading signalling to make it more reliable. And Network Rail are going to deploy virtual reality technology to save time and money and improve safety as it prepares to redevelop one of Britain’s iconic stations. 

The virtual reality technology has enabled Network Rail ( @networkrail ) to carry out 4D virtual modelling to prepare for the work, reducing the amount of time needed on track and the potential to impact on train services. Safety and efficiency of work is improved as virtual reality enables planners to avoid overlaps between different engineering teams as well as identifying potential risks and hazards which could potentially impact on reopening the railway on time.

Graeme Whitehead, Liverpool Lime Street project manager, said: “On major projects, where you have people laying track, moving bridges and installing electrical wires overhead, all at the same time, we need precise planning to avoid overlaps that could potentially cause projects to overrun or risk the safety of those working. 

“Using this state-of-the-art technology we can spot those clashes before they happen making the project safer and more efficient. This delivers benefits for passengers, taxpayers and our orange army of engineers.”

Simon Wray, managing director of Specialist Project Integration ( @ThinkSPI ), the company which developed the software, said: “Liverpool Lime Street is the first rail project in Britain to have a virtual reality model at its core.

“A unique feature of the system is that it works on multiple formats including mobile devices. Liverpool Lime Street is also the first project to use Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, which allows for a fully immersive experience for training and engagement.


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Technical Focus: Virtual reality and Liverpool Lime Street Station.

Work to greatly enhance the capacity of Liverpool Lime Street station will begin in 2017.  Virtual reality modelling is being used now to plan and deliver that work.  This is how Network Rail is using it there:

  1. Signal sighting

New signalling is being installed at Liverpool Lime Street and the positioning of these signals is critical to the safe operation of the railway. Essentially signals are the traffic lights of the railway. Before visualisation software, designers would have to go the railway and plot the location of the new signals and map how the signals could be viewed by train drivers in different models of trains.  This was time consuming work that required access to the railway, which is infrequent and often in the middle of the night in difficult conditions. Furthermore, the testing that is then required to ensure their location is suitable added more time and expense to the process.

Using virtual reality modelling, most of this work can be done from a desktop. A 3D computer-aided design (CAD) model is created from point clouds, and this is then enhanced with photo-realistic textures which are created from a photographic survey of the site. In this way a realistic virtual model of the railway is built to tight engineering tolerances.

Virtual reality visual of the existing aerial view at Liverpool Lime Street   Liverpool Lime Street virtual realityVirtual reality visual of the future aerial view at Liverpool Lime Street   Liverpool Lime Street virtual realityVirtual reality visual of the existing platform view at Liverpool Lime Street  (Picture courtesy of Network Rail)Once the model has been created, specialised signal sighting software is used to make real-time changes at the desktop without the need to send people on to site. The model is then reviewed by experienced train operators to comment or accept the proposed signal locations.

  1. 4D modelling

To undertake the work at Lime Street train station there will be periods when the station will be closed in 2017 and 2018. Although Network Rail has to build in a sensible element of contingency, shutting the railway is very expensive and disruptive for passengers. For example, the impact of a problem in the sequencing of works, or a design issue being discovered partway through the blockade, could be very disruptive.

On most railway projects there is a lot of work that happens at the same time.  For example;

  1. The civil engineers are focused on work to platform, buildings and bridges
  2. Track engineers plan and install new railway track
  3. Signalling and telecom teams install train controls and safety systems
  4. Overhead line specialists build support structures that provide power for electric trains

To ensure that this work happens safely and simultaneously, 4D technology directly links the 3D model and the construction plan and allows planners to schedule and coordinate the many thousands of tasks which can be visualised as a ‘virtual construction model’. This allows teams to spot potential clashes and hazards prior to deploying resources and machinery on site, which has a vast saving on time and cost.

  1. Options

Platform remodelling of Liverpool Lime Street station are already well under way. Virtual reality models of both Lime Street current and future platform designs are being used to make decisions now.


For more stories on virtual reality and rail: 

How virtual manufacturing is quickening production and lowering costs.

Virtual ticketing agent comes online for passengers at UK airport.

How “augmented reality lite" is aiming to improve rail efficiency in Boston.

9 innovations that are shaping the future of your railway station.

How high-res 3D imagery is helping grow Victoria’s rail asset database. 


SmartMetro 2016

Topics: IT and WiFi

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton


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