Advanced Virtual Agents for Testing the Accessibility of Rail Stations

Sixth Framework Programme
Sustainable development, global change & ecosystems

AVATARS is an ambitious project to create appropriate software tools that allow the testing and validating of rail terminal designs by using models to simulate the circulation movements of passengers within rail or metro stations. The modelling aspects of this collaborative EU project is lead by FSEG of the Centre for Numerical Modelling and Process Analysis, University of Greenwich. The project runs from 2005 - 2008

The partners for the project are: BMT Ltd, FSEG University of Greenwich, FGC Ferrocarrils de la
Generalitat de Catalunya
, ATM Autoritat del Transport Metropolità, University of Salford and Buro Happold

Current rail transport infrastructure design is led by aesthetics and prescriptive regulations. This can pose problems in passenger intensive operations, where performance and comfort are major issues. Better rail terminal design would provide increased passenger throughput and less overcrowding but it is very difficult to design for performance without accurate simulation tools. Existing tools are available to simulate passenger evacuation but none have been developed that can incorporate both evacuation and general circulation movements.

Project Objectives

The principal objective of AVATARS is to develop a simulation tool that will provide designers with a useful performance measure for train station designs. The designers will in turn be able to improve their design based on this feedback. The improvement of a rail terminal design can be measured in four ways:

  1. Improvement in the station’s ability to function in unusual or emergency situations

  2. Improvement of station capacity. This will be determined through the application of the simulation tool in order to modify the structural design and the procedures applied in order to eliminate/reduce the occurrence of dangerous levels of congestion

  3. The ability of the terminal operators to organize the movement of those using the terminal, so as to provide easy means of access to the station while exposing people to the facilities available

  4. Reduction in the number of negative emotions experienced by passengers, by allowing them easier access to the facilities they need and expediting their journey through the station

Data Collection

As part of this project a considerable amount of video data will be collected that characterises the movement and behaviour of commuters in several rail stations in Barcelona.  This part of the work is being undertaken by FGC the operator of rail infrastructure in Barcelona. FGC operates the publicly owned railway belonging to FEVE in Catalonia.

This data will be instrumental to developing the behavioural characteristics and submodels that will be incorporated within the buildingEXODUS software.  FSEG will be involved in the specification of the specific data requirements for this part of the work. 

The data collection phase will focus on several key areas:

  • Escalators and Staircases

  • Ticket Machines (TM)

  • Ticket Barriers (TB)

  • Platforms

  • Amenities

  • Passenger itineraries within complex stations


Ticket barrier system

Data collection method from ticket barrier system

Passenger itineraries within the station

VR representation of escalators and stairs of a station

Video footage from train station in Barcelona


Model Development A wide range of model developments are planned. Most of these will make direct use of the data collected from the various stations. These developments include:
  • Advanced communications capabilities between agents to enhance agent-agent interaction

  • Advanced group behaviour to enhance agent-agent interaction

  • Agent interaction with signage to improve natural wayfinding capabilities

  • Emotive modelling to enhance agent response to the environment, the scenario and other agents

  • Advanced representation of escalators to improve circulation capabilities

  • Advanced itinerary capabilities to enhance the representation of circulation activities

  • Advanced census regions to improve data output and the analysis of simulation results

  • Advanced queuing capabilities to better represent the queues and the intelligent selection of queues

  • Advanced gating options to improve the manner in which agents interact with ticket barriers.

Two examples of these developments are the advanced escalator models and the new emotive modelling capability. 

The Escalator Model

The escalator models are designed to represent how people actually use escalators and include people who ride the escalator and people who walk on the escalator and even the decision as to whether an occupant will select to climb up a stair or take an escalator.

Click image for VR animation

Video footage from train station in Barcelona.
Click image to play the video

Emotive modelling The emotive modelling component allows the agents to arrange their short term itineraries so as to maximise their personally estimated probability of catching the next train.  In some circumstances the agents will decide to include additional items on their itinerary if they feel they have sufficient time, such as "have a cup of coffee".  In contrast, agents may also drop non-essential items from their itineraries if they feel they do not have sufficient time.  The emotive model may also make the agent decide that they have to run to catch the next train.  The emotive modelling introduces into pedestrian dynamics modelling a realistic and plausible representation of the every day decisions that commuters typically make as they pass through our busy passenger terminals. The emotive modelling component of the project is being undertaken by FSEG in conjunction with Salford University.
Software Interface

As part of project AVATARS, BMT in collaboration with FSEG are developing advanced user interfaces for the buildingEXODUS software.  These interfaces will assist in both the data entry and data analysis phases.  The development of these tools will greatly enhance the usability of the buildingEXODUS software by reducing the time required to both setup and modify complex terminal models and also assist in the interpretation of the complex results generated by the software.  Partners such as FGC, ATM and Buro Happold, as different types of end user, are also involved in this development.

Project Partners


University of Greenwich
University of

Ferrocarrils de la
Generalitat de Catalunya

Autoritat del

University of Salford



Further Information Prof. Ed Galea
Fire Safety Engineering Group
University of Greenwich
Greenwich Maritime Campus
Old Royal Naval College
Queen Mary Building
Greenwich SE10 9LS

Tel: +44 (020) 8331 8730
Fax: +44(020) 8331 8925

The AVATARS project is funded by the European Commission's 6th Framework Programme