Virtual Reality

HS2 metaverse will let engineers put on a virtual reality headset to fix faults

A ‘metaverse’ of HS2, England’s upcoming high-speed railway line, will let engineers put on a virtual reality (VR) headset to fix faults.

HS2 Ltd, the state-funded body responsible for delivering the line, is planning to pack train tracks, overhead power lines and bridges with sensors.

Similar to those used in Formula One and aviation, the sensors will detect issues and beam data back to a 3D digital replica at a nearby control centre.

About 50,000 sensors will be built into the infrastructure of HS2 by the time construction of the first high-speed rail line is complete, according to experts.

HS2, which is estimated to cost more than £100 billion overall, aims to provide a high-speed rail service linking London and northern England.

The first ‘phase’ of the line, between London and Birmingham, is expected to open between 2029 and 2033.

A ‘metaverse’ of HS2, England’s upcoming high-speed railway line, will let engineers put on a virtual reality (VR) headset to fix faults. Pictured are workers in one of the two tunnels at the south portal HS2 align compound, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire


– Train antenna receives data from sensors on track, bridges and power lines

– Data is beamed to signalling mast and sent to control centre

– Faults on the actual track will appear in the digital replica

– Workers can detect faults and send repair teams

– In addition there will be cameras on top of trains monitoring the condition of the overhead line

The data that sensors on board the high speed trains collect will be transmitted directly to HS2’s Birmingham-based Network Integrated Control Centre (NICC) at Washwood Heath, about two miles north-east of Birmingham city centre.

Workers will be able to don a headset to keep an eye on the HS2 digital replica, which will have as much detail as its real-life counterpart.

‘They will see a virtual representation of the real world’, David White, head of strategic planning and asset management on HS2, told the Times.

‘Anything with a sensor on it will have data on its condition fed into the VR version of the railway and can be observed via the headset.’

At a given section of the London to Birmingham track, an antenna on top of the trains will receive data from sensors on the train track, bridges and power lines.

This data will then get beamed to a tall signalling mast and sent to the control centre via a superfast 5G signal to continually update the digital replica in real time.

Once an issue is detected, HS2 workers will be able to send out teams to fix the issue at the site.

The first ‘phase’ of the line, between London and Birmingham, is expected to open between 2029 and 2033. Artist’s impression of an HS2 train

Alternatively, some problems could be solved by a quick fix that doesn’t require a team to be deployed – such as simply turning off power with the flick of a switch at the control centre.

‘Our plan is to reduce the amount of time that our staff have to go outside,’ said White.

‘At night on normal railways, you have to go through quite a lot of processes to turn the catenary [system of overhead wires] off, especially in tunnels, which adds a huge amount of time to the start of the maintenance activity.

‘So if you can eliminate some of that you’re really giving a lot more back to the maintainer to do the work they need to and then release the space back to the train operator.’

HS2 will also use machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), to predict faults before they happen.

It’s Meta’s ambition to transform into a ‘metaverse’ – a collective virtual shared space featuring avatars of real people, accessible with an internet connection and virtual reality headset (stock image)

Information on previous faults will be analysed by the company’s machine learning tool in order to predict where future faults are most likely to occur.

‘The idea is that the AI gets more experienced as time goes on, and will understand how things have failed in the past and determine when assets are likely to fail,’ White said.

‘Digital twins’ of infrastructure used for maintenance purposes goes back several years, but more and more firms are opting to view them in a virtual internet-connected reality with their own avatars – a concept known as the ‘metaverse’.

Interest in metaverses suddenly surged last autumn when Mark Zuckerberg re-branded his company from ‘Facebook’ to ‘Meta’ as part of a new focus on the metaverse concept.

The term ‘metaverse,’ coined in the 1992 dystopian novel ‘Snow Crash,’ is used to describe immersive, shared spaces accessed across different platforms where the physical and digital converge.

Zuckerberg has described it as an ’embodied internet.’

HS2 said its digital replica will be different from Meta’s vision of the metaverse, as workers won’t have avatars and will just put on headsets to inspect the route.


The cost of the controversial HS2 high-speed rail project has increased by a further £1.7billion over the past year due to social distancing measures and work suspensions caused by the pandemic.

Coronavirus and lockdown restrictions first imposed in March last year disrupted work at most HS2 sites, causing further delays which have put even more strain on the UK’s biggest infrastructure project.

Similar pressures have been reported by industry experts in projects ranging from Crossrail and the A303 Stonehenge tunnel to the Tideway tunnel and the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset.

As a result of work suspensions, social distancing measures, and reduced productivity over this year, costs have soared by around £1.7billion – another increase on the project’s estimated £106billion budget.

Opposition to the project is mounting, with local anger contributing to the Tory by-election defeat in Chesham and Amersham. The new line is due to run through the Buckinghamshire constituency.

The costs associated with Phase 1 of the line between London and Birmingham have increased by as much as £800million, people close to the project told the FT.

That increase follows an £800million rise announced by HS2 in October, including money spent on remediating the terminus site at Euston in London.

The price of the Birmingham Interchange station also rose by £100million to £370million even before contractors have been appointed.

One contractor close to the project said that HS2 Ltd, the state-funded body responsible for delivering the line, ‘doesn’t really know how much Covid has added’. HS2 Ltd declined to comment when approached by MailOnline.

Construction started on Phase 1 of the London to Birmingham line in August last year after more than a decade of planning. But the ballooning costs could add to Treasury fears that HS2 will be a black hole for taxpayers.

The Department for Transport conceded to MailOnline that there had been ‘unavoidable costs’ arising from the coronavirus pandemic.


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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