Virtual reality technology helping Network Rail redevelop Liverpool Lime Street: Liverpool Lime Street VR - aerial view future

Wednesday 31 Aug 2016

Virtual reality technology helping Network Rail redevelop Liverpool Lime Street

Region & Route:
London North Western
North West Central

Network Rail is using virtual reality technology to save time and money and improve safety as it prepares to redevelop one of Britain’s major stations.

Liverpool Lime Street will undergo major work to transform it into a station to meet the needs of the growing numbers of passengers who use it every year.

As part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan, £340m is being spent across Merseyside to improve the railway for passengers, including changing the layout and length of Lime Street’s platforms to accommodate more and longer trains and upgrading signalling to make it more reliable.

The virtual reality technology has enabled Network Rail to carry out 4D virtual modelling to prepare for the work, reducing the amount of time needed on track and the potential to impact on train services.

Safety and efficiency of work is improved as virtual reality enables planners to avoid overlaps between different engineering teams as well as identifying potential risks and hazards which could potentially impact on reopening the railway on time.

Graeme Whitehead, Liverpool Lime Street project manager, said:  “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. This delivers benefits for passengers, taxpayers and our orange army of engineers.”

Simon Wray, managing director of Specialist Project Integration, the company which developed the software, said: “Liverpool Lime Street is the first rail project in Britain to have a virtual reality model at its core.

“A unique feature of the system is that it works on 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.”


Case study: Liverpool Lime Street Station

Work to greatly enhance the capacity of Liverpool Lime Street station will begin in 2017.  Virtual reality modelling is being used now to plan and deliver that work.  This is how Network Rail is using it there:

  1. Signal sighting

New signalling is being installed at Liverpool Lime Street and the positioning of these signals is critical to the safe operation of the railway. Essentially signals are the traffic lights of the railway. Before visualisation software, designers would have to go the railway and plot the location of the new signals and map how the signals could be viewed by train drivers in different models of trains.  This was time consuming work that required access to the railway, which is infrequent and often in the middle of the night in difficult conditions.  Furthermore, the testing that is then required to ensure their location is suitable added more time and expense to the process.

Using virtual reality modelling, most of this work can be done from a desktop. A 3D computer-aided design (CAD) model is created from point clouds, and this is then enhanced with photo-realistic textures which are created from a photographic survey of the site. In this way a realistic virtual model of the railway is built to tight engineering tolerances.

Once the model has been created, specialised signal sighting software is used to make real-time changes at the desktop without the need to send people on to site. The model is then reviewed by experienced train operators to comment or accept the proposed signal locations.

  1. 4D modelling

To undertake the work at Lime Street station there will be periods when the station will be closed in 2017 and 2018. Although Network Rail has to build in a sensible element of contingency, shutting the railway is very expensive and disruptive for passengers. For example, the impact of a problem in the sequencing of works, or a design issue being discovered partway through the blockade, could be very disruptive.

On most railway projects there is a lot of work that happens at the same time.  For example;

  1. The civil engineers are focused on work to platform, buildings and bridges
  2. Track engineers plan and install new railway track
  3. Signalling and telecom teams install train controls and safety systems
  4. Overhead line specialists build support structures that provide power for electric trains

To ensure that this work happens safely and simultaneously, 4D technology directly links the 3D model and the construction plan and allows planners to schedule and coordinate the many thousands of tasks which can be visualised as a ‘virtual construction model’. This allows teams to spot potential clashes and hazards prior to deploying resources and machinery on site, which has a vast saving on time and cost.

  1. Options

Platform remodelling of Liverpool Lime Street station are already well under way. Virtual reality models of both Lime Street current and future platform designs are being used to make decisions now.


Notes to editors:

-              It costs an average of £200,000 per day to close access to the railway in the Liverpool City Region. The money is provided as compensation to train operating companies who are unable to run services during this time and have to provide alternative transport to passengers.

-              The contractor that has designed and built the virtual reality software is called SPI.  For more information on what they do visit or contact Simon on 07725951111.


Contact information

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Network Rail press office - Simon Masters
Communications Manager - Western
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About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

Every day, there are more than 4.8 million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

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