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Utilising VR to Educate Midlands Students on Railway Safety

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In the pursuit of reducing trespass incidents, schools in the West Midlands are embracing the use of virtual reality headsets as an innovative tool to educate students about railway safety.

Network Rail, with a vested interest in promoting safety, has chosen to implement virtual reality technology in West Midlands schools, aiming to effectively convey essential railway safety messages and mitigate the occurrence of trespassing incidents. Startlingly, the past financial year (2022–23) witnessed over 1,700 trespass incidents throughout the West Midlands region, encompassing the West Coast main line and the Chiltern Main Line leading to London. Of these incidents, 250 involved individuals under the age of 18.

This revelation emerges as part of Network Rail’s impactful ‘You vs. Train’ campaign, specifically timed to coincide with the impending summer holidays. By leveraging the immersive capabilities of virtual reality, Network Rail seeks to emphasise the severe perils associated with trespassing on railway tracks.

A poignant milestone, June 27th marked the sombre sixth anniversary of the tragic demise of Harrison Ballantyne. The untimely loss occurred when Harrison, an 11-year-old, tragically succumbed to electrocution while venturing onto the railway in pursuit of his football. Located at a rail freight yard in Northamptonshire, which happened to be more than a mile away from his residence, the site delivered a lethal dose of 25,000 volts upon Harrison’s ill-fated encounter.

In an earnest endeavour to avert similar accidents, Harrison’s final day has been commemorated through the creation of a compelling video campaign that vividly portrays the inherent dangers associated with railways. Harrison’s mother, Liz Ballantyne, persistently urges carers and families to prioritise talks with young kids on railroad dangers at the start of the summer break by teaming up with Network Rail and the British Transport Police.

Liz shared her sentiments, stating that summertime should be a time of freedom, and she always encouraged Harrison to travel and experience new things. The dangers of “stranger danger” and the relevance of water safety were topics she taught him about, but unhappily, because there was no local train station in their area, she could not understand the significance of teaching him about railroad security. She only realised how important it was much later, and since then, she has considered it vital.

Additionally, Network Rail’s Central route plans to integrate the video campaign and virtual reality headsets as part of its strategy to educate young individuals on the perils of trespassing. An investment of £15,000 has been made to acquire these cutting-edge headsets, following a successful trial conducted by Network Rail’s community safety teams in the North West region.

At present, the virtual reality experience encompasses two distinct scenarios, both of which expose participants to hazardous outcomes. The initial scenario places the viewer in the cab alongside a train driver, offering a perspective on approaching trespassers on the tracks. The second scenario immerses the viewer in the viewpoint of a group of teenagers, one of whom makes physical contact with electrified steel rails.

By harnessing the power of virtual reality and employing a proactive approach, Network Rail endeavours to instill a deep understanding of railway safety among Midlands students.

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