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On their first day of work, new railroaders don’t just take the controls of a locomotive or build a 100-car block of rolling stock. First, they need to master the skills necessary to safely and efficiently get the job done. For transportation employees joining Norfolk Southern, that preparation begins at the company’s state-of-the-art training center in McDonough, Georgia.

Over the years, thousands of railroaders have passed through the center to learn and progress in their field. And while today’s employees must master many of the same railroading fundamentals as their predecessors, innovative new technologies have significantly enhanced the quality and safety of their training.

Among these technologies are sophisticated locomotive simulators, which allow engineer trainees to gain hours of experience performing simulated train runs without leaving the classroom. Though trainees also must complete field work under the direct supervision of a qualified engineer, the simulators accelerate their learning curve, offering them a hands-on experience earlier, without physically being on their territory or in a locomotive.

What’s more, these machines can simulate unexpected events – such as weather scenarios, train malfunctions, and emergency and penalty brake applications – that a trainee might never experience during a normal train run. This valuable exposure provides trainees with additional opportunities to solve real-world challenges.

Trainees also are issued laptops and tablets at the center that enable them to take advantage of advanced computer-based training modules, such as the virtual A6 brake test. The A6 is a critical inspection of a train’s airbrake system and a fundamental skill for new conductors and railcar mechanics.

Airbrake inspection and testing typically requires NS to set up multiple freight cars on-site and allocate a significant amount of training time for demonstration, practice, and evaluation. With the training module, however, trainees can conduct virtual inspections of freight cars and interact with various brake components – all on a tablet or desktop computer, anytime, anywhere.

In 2018 alone, nearly 3,000 employees have used these innovative training techniques to start or advance their careers. By combining cutting-edge simulator and virtual technology with hands-on training, NS is providing its workforce with the most effective and efficient training possible, equipping them with the skills needed to help NS reimagine railroading.