Mind the Gap: GPUs Recreate Fabled UK Rail Station in VR

by Gail Laguna

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.

The Liverpool Lime Street station will be the first in Britain modeled in VR. That model will help engineers save time and money and improve safety as they add new lines to the largest and oldest railway station in Liverpool.

Network Rail is spending approximately $450 million to improve the Liverpool Lime Street terminus. 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.

Modeling a Landmark

More than 20,000 commuters scurry underneath the cavernous station’s landmark iron and glass roofs each day, a number planners expect to double in the next 25 years.

To model the station’s unique layout, Specialist Project Integration use 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.

NVIDIA GPUs have been critical to this work.

“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.”

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 also 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.

Liverpool Lime Street station
The Liverpool Lime Street station will be the first in Britain modeled in VR.

Take a Virtual Tour

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.

See NVIDIA GPUs powering VR this week at GTC Europe.