“Why haven’t we been doing this already?” – Interview w/ Norfolk Southern about Simulation Training

On this site, we’ve shared thoughts around our company’s culture and commitment to our founding principles, but how does that create an exceptional customer experience? This series of Customer Collaboration Interviews explores exceptional client experiences as well as challenges – and opportunities for growth.

During this interview with Ryan Foster, Manager of Technical Training, Transportation at Norfolk Southern’s Technical Training Center in McDonough, Ga., our conversation moved toward the importance of mastery and how it’s not only important for those being trained in a skill to understand it in theory, but to have real confidence when it comes to applying those skills. Working with Ryan and his colleague, Brandon Gattie, Manager of Technical Training, Mechanical, we were able to explore an important area requiring operator confidence – inspecting and testing freight car air brakes.

Norfolk Southern Corporation operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal, automotive, and industrial products. Inspecting and testing freight car air brakes, known as a Class I Brake Test (CFR 232), is a fundamental part of a railroad’s initial training for Conductors and Freight Car Mechanics. As you can imagine, ensuring brakes are properly functioning is something operators must get right every time.

But this training comes with physical space and time constraints, as it requires Norfolk Southern to have multiple freight cars on-site and allocate a significant amount of training time for demonstration, practice, and evaluation. That is, until they decided to deploy simulation-based training covering the complete inspection process. See a user in action below:

The training allows students to visually inspect a variety of freight cars, while manipulating brake components to properly configure the brake system, determine correct brake pressure and inspect for brake application and release through a practice mode.

We discussed how efficiently simulation-based training increases the amount students retain from this mode of training since its deployment in October:

Mary Long for Heartwood (HW): When did you deploy the application to your workforce? What platform did you deploy first – PC or Mobile and why?
Ryan Foster for Norfolk Southern (NS): Based on our technical capabilities, using an iPad was the quickest way to get it deployed in our training center.  

HW: What was their response? Any first knee-jerk reactions?
NS: Students have loved it, particularly that they can do the task whenever they have time, rather than some scheduled time – and if they don’t finish, they can come back and use it on their own time. Five minutes, an hour, it’s up to them. We’ve also had current conductors come for engineer training and ask if they can take this back with them to show others. There aren’t any visual trainings/resources as of right now, just the written materials.

HW: How many people a year do you intend to train with this app?
NS: On the mechanical side, between 100-300 individuals; on the transportation side, we’re looking at 1,200-2,000 more. There is interest  to open it up to everyone in the company, which would make this available to approximately 15,000 people.

HW: Are you saving time on testing vs. live evaluation?
NS: We aren’t measuring this in terms of time saved, as we’re allocating the same amount of time to the training and completing the test outside, but the confidence and mastery demonstrated has noticeably improved. Whereas students seemed uncertain before, you can now see that person knows what they’re doing. It was a hoped for result, not unexpected, but still great to achieve.
We’ve considered replacing the outside evaluation with the simulation to better track how many students/employees pass, how many fail, what are the common areas that are missed.

HW: Any other indirect benefits? Expected and unexpected?
NS: The level of engagement has been a  surprise. An instructor observed a conductor training with the simulation before class even started.
Norfolk Southern is now focused on identifying the most common training offered company wide to decide which type of simulation to deploy next.  “We don’t want to overwhelm our employees with technology. We still want them to go out there and get their hands dirty.” And armed with an iPad, complete with engaging and interactive refresher training, conductors (and others) can do just that.

Hear the interview here:

Read their full Case Study here.
Read Norfolk Southern’s Press Release here.

This year 45,315 railroaders will stay competent with these training simulations and guides.

Want to license the Class I Air Brake Test Simulation for your workforce? Or inspired to explore custom simulation based training for your employees? Reach out here – [email protected] or call 888.781.0274 ext. 701