Driving large vehicles has been a lifelong passion for Ken Woods, who started out driving trucks as a teenager before getting behind the wheel of an OC Transpo bus.
Now 18 years into his OC Transpo career, Woods is training to be one of Ottawa's first electric rail operators when trains start rolling on the Confederation Line in 2018.
"I absolutely knew that it's exactly what I wanted to do," said Woods, speaking on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "I mean, ever since I was a little kid. Who hasn't dreamt of driving a train?"
Simulator helping trainees prepare
Woods and his fellow trainees are learning in a simulator that looks like the cockpit of an actual train, but instead of windows, it has a wraparound video screen that displays images of the line ahead, as well as the landmarks that would be visible to the operator's left and right as he rolls down the track. It can even display debris on the windshield, which the driver can "clear" using a projection of a windshield wiper and spray.
Different weather conditions can be added to the simulation, which helps operators get a feel for how long it will take to stop the train when the weather is clear, rainy or icy, Woods said.
As the train approaches a station, the simulator also displays passengers milling about on the platform.
"We have to react to how people act as we're pulling into stations, and it's good practice to be able to visualize what these stations will actually look like," Woods said.
LRT operators will still interact with passengers
Over the years, Woods has built relationships with his passengers, some of whom wished him good-bye with Tim Horton's gift cards and chocolate.
While his new job won't allow him to greet each person boarding the train, he anticipates there will still be many opportunities to talk to passengers.
"Part of our job is actually to spend time on the platform interacting with people and helping them," Woods said. "There's a huge customer service component to this job."
Woods also isn't worried the train's many automatic features will make it boring to operate, since he'll still be watching for obstructions in the train's path and making decisions about the safety of switching tracks. Cameras will also help him monitor activity inside the train.
On Tuesday night, Woods will take his training to the next level when gets behind the controls of a real train for the first time.
"I'm just absolutely over the moon over it," Woods said. "What a time to be in transit here in Ottawa."