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Mind the Gap: NVIDIA GPUs Model Liverpool Rail Station in VR

This rail project at Lime Street station is the first in Britain to be modeled in VR.

Virtual reality is helping Network Rail, the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the UK’s rail network, to redevelop one of the world’s oldest, and most complex, rail stations.

Network Rail is spending approximately £340 million (about $415 million) to improve the Liverpool Lime Street terminus. More than 20,000 commuters pass beneath the station’s landmark iron and glass roofs each day, a number planners expect to double in the next 25 years. The plans include changing the layout and length of Lime Street’s platforms to accommodate more and longer trains and upgrading signaling to make it more reliable.

This rail project at Lime Street station is the first in Britain to be modeled in VR. The VR technology has enabled Network Rail to conduct virtual site tours, reducing the amount of time needed on track and the potential impact on train services. VR has improved safety by allowing engineers to identify risks and hazards in advance. It also helps work go faster by letting planners identify problems that could delay their work.

Virtual rendering of railyard by SPI

To model the station’s layout, Specialist Project Integration uses a range of technology, running on NVIDIA GPUs, that lets engineers push data from laser scans and photogrammetry into traditional computer-aided design applications. From there, engineers can pour the data into custom-built workstations for modeling and into the Unity game engine to be rendered into VR.

“We’ve been an NVIDIA customer for years,” says Simon Wray, managing director of Specialist Project Integration. “We used an array of NVIDIA GPUs in the design phase and to drive the VR application so that we could create and seamlessly run 3D environments of the highest visual fidelity.”

Wray adds that the system works in multiple formats, including mobile devices. “Liverpool Lime Street is also the first project to use Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, which allows for a fully immersive experience for training and engagement.”

According to Graeme Whitehead, Liverpool Lime Street project manager, “On major projects, where you have people laying track, moving bridges and installing electrical wires overhead, all at the same time, we need precise planning to avoid overlaps that could potentially cause projects to overrun or risk the safety of those working. Using this state-of-the-art technology, we can spot those clashes before they happen, making the project safer and more efficient.”

The public can get a look at the virtual station, too. Kiosks, built by the Institute of Civil Engineers, will demo the VR experience to commuters at the Liverpool Lime Street station starting at the end of this year.