Photo/IllutrationWearing VR headsets, riders prepare for a horror-filled ride at the Toshimaen amusement park in Tokyo. (Odaka Chiba)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The Seibu Group has devised two virtual-reality (VR) projects with entirely different purposes. One is to scare the pants off train riders. The other is to ensure that passengers never have to experience such frights.

The group’s Toshimaen amusement park in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward has converted its haunted house into an attraction called “Onryo Haisen VR” (Vengeful spirit, deserted railroad VR).

The VR experience of the ride not only spooks the visitors, but it can also help to train Seibu Railway Co. workers to prevent and deal with rail accidents in real life.

The attraction opened in December and will run until April. On holidays, people have waited in line for more than an hour for the ride.

Wearing special headsets that immerse them in a 360-degree VR world, the riders experience a scenario in which they are railway workers dispatched to inspect a deserted railroad on a creepy night.

As the self-driving vehicle moves ahead on the railroad, the riders enter a world of horrors. An old woman suddenly appears sitting beside them. Disembodied hands reach out to grab them.

The riders are supposed to report distortions in the shape of the tracks. They can get rid of ghosts and other monsters by shining their headlights on them.

“The VR technology enabled us to add a new dimension to the existing facility beyond the physical restrictions of the building,” said Shinji Nakamura, chief of the park operator’s business planning division.

Seibu Railway also plans to use the VR technology in the horror ride for maintenance and repairs on its real trains and tracks.

The company has trained workers to find problems by purposely introducing glitches in safety devices and equipment at its railyard.

But the company obviously cannot create such malfunctions on its operational lines, making it difficult to prepare the workers for accidents in real-life situations.

The VR technology allows the company to safely create abnormal circumstances, such as the warped tracks seen in the horror ride.

The idea for using VR technologies for training surfaced around June last year.

Seibu Railway plans to verify the accuracy of the VR images and movements for the maintenance training. It may use the reactions of the riders at the park to determine if the 3-D images look authentic enough.

“Difficult construction work could be recorded in 360-degree imagery and handed down to the next generation in the company,” said Toshihito Takekawa, assistant chief of Seibu Railway’s planning division. “We would like to think about various ways to use VR technologies in the railway industry.”