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Culture

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Don’t Just Ride the Subway—Drive it

A first-year university student created a TTC train simulator that puts you in the virtual driver's seat.

On the computer screen, a long dark tunnel lies ahead. Silver tracks shimmer in the dim light. A voice speaks over the radio:

This is run number 44. Am I clear to depart from Osgoode?

This is a regular Friday night for Weilan Huang, the co-founder of T2PO films, a digital media production company.

Huang, who is enrolled at Seneca College and studying to become a commercial pilot, says his interest in signals sparked the idea to create a website for those who shared his hobby.

Huang and Ernest Ng, another transit enthusiast, started using an open-source simulator to operate subway trains online a few years ago, but it wasn’t realistic. “Things were misplaced,” he says. “The grade time signals weren’t working—specialized signals that manage the speed of the train.”

So Huang and Ng updated the routes and founded the TTC Academy in December 2012. Huang used videos other people took of the subway routes to create their virtual version with a team of developers. “We copied the video, and I went out on the line and recorded the audio for the station announcements,” he says. The simulator now features the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines.

Anyone can register in the academy. Members meet online at designated times to do runs. The simulation mimics real-life activities like following signals, stopping the train at the platform, and communicating with controllers. Members can become operators or tower controllers based on skill level, and each is assigned a badge number.

“Your job is to get from one end of the line to another without causing a collision or being kicked out of a run,” says Huang, “while gaining virtual hours and earnings.”

TeamSpeak, a system similar to Skype, allows multiple players to talk at the same time.

There are now 176 members registered, about 40 of whom play regularly. Toby Oronos, a 14-year-old from Toronto, joined the academy last November, and says the friendliness of the other players is one of the reasons he continues using the website. And the academy is “a lot more realistic than many other simulations,” Oronos adds.

Huang depends on other enthusiasts to add their input and help create more routes. He says that’s why he made the academy’s simulator open source. “We’re building this together,” he says. “There are other people who want to help.”

CORRECTION: March 3, 12:00 p.m. This post originally made reference to “grey time signals,” rather than “grade time signals.” We regret the error.

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