PTSI Transportation


Route Learning System ™

An All-Digital Multi-Media Physical Characteristics Training System

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The Route Learning System™ – digital track schematics and cab-view video completely synchronized

The Challenges

The delivery of safe and reliable rail transportation is largely dependent upon the knowledge and proficiency of the employees assigned to the task. It is particularly important for all operating employees to be adequately familiar with the physical characteristics of the routes and territories they work. This applies to passenger and freight railroads, as well as to rail transit. For FRA regulated railroads, it means full compliance with the regulations in 49CFR240, 242 and 243.

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There is no doubt that railways and rail transit are among the safest means of transportation of people and cargo. Still, accidents occasionally occur. Some of these incidents, over the years, have been attributed by the NTSB, FRA, FTA, and TSB (Canada) to a lack of familiarity with the route or territory. At the same time, the cost and lead time required to train new employees to the high standards of our industry is increasing, and rapid rates of attrition make this even more costly.


Despite the development of increasingly sophisticated signal systems, including PTC and CBTC, the first line of defense is and will likely remain knowledge of and compliance with the rules and physical characteristics of each route!

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PTSI Transportation Route Learning System™

In response to these challenges, PTSI Transportation has developed a simple and cost effective tool to provide more comprehensive and efficient route familiarization training for operating personnel. This ‘all digital’ product is known as the Route Learning System™.

It uses a dual-screen approach with one screen containing an annotated, scripted and narrated, high resolution video of the route from the operator’s perspective, and the other a detailed schematic map of the line which scrolls as the video advances. A voiceover calls attention to key system elements, associated procedures and potential safety hazards. All critical system elements such as interlockings, signals, turnouts, crossings, RCL zones, radio channels, gradient, speeds, and curvature are highlighted on both screens as they come up. With each highlight, the action momentarily freezes, for clarity and emphasis.

The ‘real world’ video is fully synchronized with the scrolling track map (with a “you are here” train symbol moving along the proper track) to enhance route familiarization. The multi-media approach of map, video, voice, graphics, and highlights promotes genuine comprehension rather than just rote memory.

This teaching system is not meant to replace direct field observations and qualification trips, but to introduce, reinforce and supplement them in a structured way.

Before the first field observation trip over the line, a student will have “been over it” many times with the Route Learning System™, and will have been offered many tips to better learn the railway (such as “you are now approaching a speed restriction – plan your braking accordingly”).

The Route Learning System™ has been designed to allow more of the training (both initial and requalification) to take place in a classroom setting. In addition, unlike costly simulator-based training, the system supports student-paced home study, improving both the effectiveness and efficiency of the overall training program. The tool can also be readily adapted to system specific requirements, different employee populations such as the various maintenance disciplines and engineering, as well as to train operators, engineers and conductors.

The system includes the video, along with the route schematic maps, in both electronic and hard copy versions. They may be viewed separately or together, taken home (on a flash drive and a book) for personal study or even deployed for control center or operating management use. Also available is an employee testing module which poses questions (weighted if desired) and scores the students' answers.

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The Route Learning System™ can be used on a laptop, tablet, and desktop, or it can be used with projectors for training center/classroom use.

The Route Learning System™

  • Enhances safety through more effective route familiarization training

  • Promotes true comprehension (with deeply embedded knowledge) as opposed to just rote memory

  • Improves crew availability through faster qualification times

  • Ensures consistency in training – everyone gets the same information, in user-friendly format

Who Uses the Route Learning System™?

The digital system is in use on the New Jersey Transit Newark Light Rail. Earlier versions have also been installed on Caltrain commuter rail, the Belt Railway Company of Chicago (BRCC), Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, and one is used as the BRCC section of the Chicago Operating Rules Association (CORA) Guide.

Additional Benefits and Features

In addition to training for operating personnel, the tool can provide benefits for other rail and transit activities. For example, it can be used for familiarization and safety training of Maintenance of Way (roadway worker and contractor) employees. Control (dispatch) Center personnel can use the system as a ‘quick reference’ tool to assist in real time incident management on the railway. It can also be part of a System Safety Plan.

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In addition to training for operating personnel, the tool can provide benefits for other rail and transit activities. For example, it can be used for familiarization and safety training of Maintenance of Way (roadway worker and contractor) employees. Control (dispatch) Center personnel can use the system as a ‘quick reference’ tool to assist in real time incident management on the railway. It can also be part of a System Safety Plan.

The system’s quick reference capability can also support various asset management activities for maintenance of way and capital planning initiatives. Versions which may contain sensitive information, (such as electrification, ventilation, signal, and emergency egress data) can be password protected.

Route Learning System Light™

A budget version of the Route Learning System™ has been made available, especially useful for short line (and tourist) railroads, and streetcar systems. Its features are similar to the basic system but it includes only hard copy physical characteristic maps and video (the video and maps are not linked).

Safe, efficient and reliable operations require a high level of route familiarization. The knowledge must be deep-seated, so that when multiple communications and both internal and/or external activities occur, often simultaneously, there is no loss of focus or situational awareness. The location, and action appropriate thereto, must always be known by the train’s operator. Imparting this necessary depth and breadth of knowledge and recognition can be both time-consuming and expensive. The PTSI Transportation Route Learning System™ has been designed to help meet these challenges by allowing more of the training to take place in the classroom or in a home setting, reinforcing, in a structured way, direct road observation. It is simple and cost effective, supporting both coaching and self-study.

The bottom line is improved safety through more effective learning, and improved operator availability through faster qualification times. Perhaps these words, written following a deadly derailment in which the quality of physical characteristics training was suspect, will not have to be repeated:


An Invitation for You and Your Staff

You are cordially invited to view a short video on the Route Learning System™ at your convenience, on our web site, at Likewise, we would be happy to arrange for a demonstration of the Route Learning System™ in your office or training facility. Of course, you may also view the Route Learning System™ in our own office in Rutherford NJ should you be in or visiting the New York metropolitan area.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you require any further information on the Route Learning System™

About PTSI Transportation

With almost half a century of service to the railway and transportation industry, PTSI Transportation has found its market niche in areas not well served by other consultancies. For the railway and transit industries in particular, these include customer and on board service, marketing, operations training tools and management systems and standards. Railway passenger equipment and motor coach service and operations are additional specialties.

The heart of PTSI Transportation and its capabilities lies in its team of some 40 transportation professionals. The team has collective experience of about 1,500 years, and includes persons who have been out “on the ground and in the field” as well as those with doctoral degrees, and professional engineers and planners. We bring a multinational perspective with associates and advisors from Britain and Australia as well as the United States.

Our headquarters are centrally located in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, within sight of (and about twenty-five minutes from) the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

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