Kathryn Bishop says we have the potential to build an entirely virtual railway – something she says is one of our most exciting innovations.
Find out from Kathryn, a media learning and development specialist, why the railway is one of the best places to pursue a passion for technology.
This International Women’s Day, Kathryn featured in a new flagship film telling young people all over Britain that the railway is changing for the better. Watch the full film we made in partnership with train operator Southeastern.
How do you use virtual reality at Network Rail?
We now use virtual reality in all safety critical courses… The reason we're doing this is because virtual reality – or VR – allows us to [give our people] the experience of practicing something in a reality-based environment that really sort of does immerse you whilst being in a completely safe environment like a classroom compared to like going out on track… We’re getting into practice being on track without putting them in that danger zone.
So is this new technology?
Not necessarily… It's an innovative technology for railway training… What we are looking into is a new type of virtual reality, which is almost if you imagine going into the videogame the Sims and you design your own houses and neighbourhoods. That's what we would do with the railway instead. So we will be able to build our own depots our own railway tracks and environments and, theoretically, and hopefully one day, practically create the entire map of [Britain’s railway]. It's fully immersive. You go in there and you feel like you are in the real world…
You can make mistakes on the track. You can make mistakes in your job that you're practicing for… and you'll experience the repercussions visually and perhaps audibly but you weren't actually harmed.
And in these scenarios, there will be branches as well… where they have to make a decision and then depending on their decision, it takes them off down another leg of the journey… So they actually get to see the repercussions of their decisions up close…
The potential of virtual reality is almost limitless, I'd say. You really can replicate reality in any form. You could build entire buildings if you wanted to. You could build the railway track and we could actually teach people how to do that.
Gallery: our virtual railway
Is this the most exciting time for innovation on the railway?
I'd say it's very exciting or rewarding because we're now actually experiencing the innovative technologies being launched and pushed and we are experiencing feedback from [our people]… and how they've improved the course, which is absolutely phenomenal.
And in terms of future in an innovative technology, we are continuously looking into that now we almost have an entire section looking into the future on what we're going to do and how we're going to apply it… We’re continuously watching this space to make sure that we can keep up with the technology evolution…
I have worked with… the same technology but never to the same scale that the railway is trying to achieve and never to the same scale… It's honestly tens of thousands, probably close to 100,000 [including contractors]… To do this and to implement this kind of innovative technology for that number of people all across Britain is exceptional.
Do you enjoy your job?
It’s a very engaging job because every day you're learning something new and then at the end of the process, you get to pass on to others, which is very rewarding… Going out on track can be dangerous… Creating the training that is hopefully going to prevent them from getting hurt or going to minimise these dangers and risks by preparing them… in terms of their behaviours on the railway as well is absolutely phenomenal. It's an extremely rewarding feeling I'm very proud of.
What’s is like working at Network Rail?
Network Rail is a fantastic place to work. It's the most diverse and accepting place I've worked in my entire career. You are encouraged to just be your true self. And it's almost like they pull the strengths of your true self out rather than you saying, ‘oh, no fit in with everyone else’. They really do encourage that originality and uniqueness… It's completely open and accepting. It's a wonderful environment to work in.
It doesn't matter what you like or dislike… Everyone is welcome and will be fully embraced as part of the team and part of the company.