Preparing for Socially Distanced Ops

Virtually bringing the membership to the club

Due to social distancing guidelines still in effect, Silicon Valley Lines canceled the May ops session originally scheduled for tonight. We discussed doing another remote ops session instead, and decided that this time we’d try to do a session from the club. Only two members went to the club. Everybody else joined over video conference from home.

This was to test both our ability to implement social distancing, as well as whether and how to incorporate remote operators into an operations scheme. Another goal tonight was to stress-test the club’s Internet connection with multiple video streams in a multi-user setting.

We set up various cameras to record the action from different angles. We also moved the cameras around to capture trains as they moved from yards over the layout to their destinations for switching.

We used Web cams connected to laptops, as well as Android phones to provide views of the layout for the stay-at-home audience

The verdict:
Over the course of the evening we ran only four trains, instead of the 25 trains we normally run.

We can support a remote dispatcher and give remote operators control of a train. We have the technology to do that.

However, our Internet uplink does not support multiple HD streams in parallel. The double-deck arrangement makes visual train control via cameras challenging for a remote operator. While detected sections on the layout work well, and are needed for signaling, not all blocks have detection for various reasons.

Keeping distance between operators in the layout room will be a requirement for a while

Even when the county’s strict shelter-in-place orders are lifted, we will need to continue some form of social distancing measures for the time being, including wearing masks. A well-attended ops session is a lot of fun with a lot of energy in the room. However, the health of club members and visitors is paramount. More discussions are needed to find a way to run an ops session at the club that is fun, but avoids crowding in the aisles, and minimizes health risks. Very likely this will include a remote engineer component, and we need to figure out how to make that fun and satisfying for everyone involved.

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