A revolutionary tool for "railway sentries" - 25/01/2017

 During certain works carried out close to or on tracks in service, Infrabel employees are responsible for ensuring the safety of the maintenance teams. Whenever a train approaches, these "lookouts" raise the alarm so that the working area can be cleared immediately. In order to improve their training, Infrabel has developed a tool which is the first of its kind in Europe: a 3D simulator able to replicate their working environment and place them in hazardous situations.

Lookouts, a vital link in the safety chain

At Infrabel, 2,600 employees are qualified to perform the role of lookout. Their role is an essential one:  they ensure the safety of the maintenance teams operating close to or on tracks that are in service, allowing the team to concentrate fully on carrying out their work. Depending on the type of work and the layout of the site, one or more lookouts may be posted along the track in order to watch out for each train that approaches, raise the alarm in good time, and so allow the maintenance teams to pull out safely and in an organised manner.

If necessary, lookouts can halt a train by displaying a stop signal to the driver.

The 3D simulator: a revolution

From March 2017, Infrabel will be the first railway infrastructure manager in Europe to offer its staff the chance to use a 3D simulator. Sessions with this tool, which was developed in Belgium, will become an automatic part of the process of training lookouts.

The 3D simulator reproduces the working environment by projecting realistic images onto three walls and the floor. It includes the tracks, the team at work, the trains, the other lookouts and a scenario. The entire reproduction is set to a sophisticated soundtrack. The trainee is also given the equipment carried by a lookout: a horn, cones and flags.

In order to run the simulation, the trainee wears a head tracking system that controls the entire simulated environment in a realistic manner. This is total immersion. Once the simulation starts, depending on the scenario selected, the trainee is faced with ordinary situations as well as disruptive events and "at risk" situations. Their reactions and the correct or incorrect use of the equipment provided are automatically recorded by the central system. The system modifies the progression of the simulation according to the actions recorded.

The 3D simulator therefore allows the trainee to be placed in all kinds of situations, and their performance can be analysed and projected to the class in order to discuss what was good and any errors made.

Initially, new employees recruited will train on the 3D simulator in order to qualify to work as lookouts as quickly as possible. The 3D simulator will also be a valuable aspect of continuous professional development, with the aim of allowing all lookouts to work on the simulator once every three years.

Reducing the impact of works

For safety reasons, Infrabel prefers to carry out work on the main tracks of the network when rail traffic can be suspended. In order to minimise the impact on the regularity of the service, work is therefore in practice most often carried out at night.


However, given our obligations with regard to infrastructure availability and punctuality, some maintenance tasks still need to be carried out close to or on tracks in service. In this situation the role of lookout is vital, as it allows Infrabel to deliver part of its maintenance workload with no adverse effect on punctuality and in a way that guarantees the safety of its staff.