How Simulations Unlock Railroad Apprenticeship Training

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Unlocking Railroad Apprenticeship Simulated Training Opportunities

Railroading is an incredibly unique industry, with corresponding safety regulations that touch the daily lives of each person who inhabits it – and beyond. This makes sense, as Railroads are arguably the most essential piece of our intermodal freight transportation system — and moving cargo is a complicated (and dangerous) process. Each craft in the railroading industry, from Carmen and Conductors to Mechanics and Engineers, is a safety-sensitive position with its own unique set of criteria that must be mastered.

If it is not, the lives, and livelihood, of countless others are endangered.

This is why rigorous apprenticeship programs are important, and why simulated training has attracted the attention of railroading industry leaders, including BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern.

The Simulated Training Connection to Railroading

As an essential part of our infrastructure, railroading continues to move forward as other parts of society are rethinking how to navigate this new normal. Part of that forward motion in railroading requires renewed commitment to training to meet safety priorities.

To further that effort, we’ve seen Class 1 railroads supplement their safety stats by adding simulated training to their processes. Currently, there’s an FRA-approved Air Brake Test (CFR 232) that runs through the complete inspection process. The simulation allows a student to visually inspect a variety of randomized freight cars, while manipulating brake components to determine correct pressure and release, with an exam practice mode offering individually targeted feedback.

And there’s also a Railroad Locomotive Daily Inspection (CFR 229) training that offers a thorough examination of all major components of the locomotive to ensure that no safety hazards exist. It confirms that the locomotive meets all FRA requirements and, like all Heartwood sims, offers individualized performance feedback.

The strength of these augmented trainings is found in the ability for Carmen to practice each offering at their own pace, while alleviating physical space and time constraints, as these trainings can happen anytime, anywhere – and can be monitored remotely. And this naturally leads us to consider apprenticeships, as there are exceptional opportunities to complement and enhance existing protocols here as well.

Apprenticeship Training Opportunities

Although various railroads interpret and implement requirements differently, in the By-Laws of the Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division, the agreement the union has with all Class I railroads found in its Qualifications for Membership, Section 4(b), is  the affirmation of how crucial a rigorous apprenticeship is to the craft: “Any person engaging himself to learn the Carmen’s trade shall serve an apprenticeship or eight (8) periods of 130 days each.”

And then there are also helper-apprentices to consider – those “who having been engaged in work as a helper for two (2) years, engages himself to an employer to serve three (3) additional years learning the Carmen’s trade.”

The time requirements are not hard and fast standards, as “these periods of time are the maximum requirements to be used as a guide and are not mandatory where other agreements with shorter periods have been approved.” This flexibility makes sense, as recruiting from the military for these roles is very common, as these recruits, as a rule, come equipped with key success indicators. They are typically decisive and possess strong leadership and critical thinking abilities, and they live by a code of conduct that aligns with FRA rules.

Regardless of how they arrive at the role though, there are training ratios for railroads to consider. “The ratio of apprentices shall be one (1) apprentice for every fifteen (15) journeymen Carmen employed.” And “the number of helper-apprentices shall at no time exceed fifty percent (50%) of the number of regular indentured apprentices in any shop.” Due to this, it is in a railroad’s best interest to move skilled apprentices through their training program as expeditiously as possible, while ensuring the highest safety standards are met.

3D Simulated training offers an augmentative method that can apply standardized teaching methodologies safely and at scale.

Outside of the required Carmen recertification testing every three years, as specified in 49 CFR 232.203, parts A-D, railroads should have accurate, always-available options to keep apprentices moving along at whatever pace makes the most sense for the individual apprentice. And they need access to refresher trainings available on the fly, anytime, anywhere for apprentices and seasoned Carmen alike – as taking folks out of commission for remediation is not only costly, it’s dangerous.

It’s why BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern are exploring new ways to implement this training with their railroads. Shouldn’t you be considering the same? Reach out and we can help you implement simulation training solutions in your Hump Yard or across your railroads to ensure the highest levels of safety and also, ROI.