Innovate UK announces £9.4m funding for projects that use new technology in a rail environment

Innovate UK has announced a ‘first of a kind’ competition for projects that demonstrate, for the first time, how proven technologies, such as automation or innovative uses of data, could be used on the railways.

Up to £9.4 million is available from the Department for Transport for investment in demonstrations of new technologies that could improve rail services.

Funding for this ‘first of a kind’ competition is under the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and managed by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

In launching the competition, which opens on 13 January 2020, and closes at midday on 11 March 2020, Innovate UK said that the UK rail industry transports 1.7 billion passengers and 110 million tonnes of freight each year and faces challenges from rapid growth and changing customer expectations.

The number of trains has increased by 28 per cent since 1997 and demand for rail transport is expected to increase by 58 per cent over the next 10 years. In addition, light rail and local transport systems are expanding and creating opportunities for UK businesses.

However, current engineering and technologies are struggling to keep pace with the demand. New technologies could help the rail industry to meet expectations, improve services for customers and open new markets for business.

The competition is open to projects that use new technology in a rail environment and that seek to demonstrate the technology as a compelling business idea in areas such as railway stations, rolling stock, rail infrastructure or an environment close to a railway.

Entries are expected to focus on 1 of 4 themes:

  • Environmental sustainability, including low-carbon freight, energy generation and storage, low-emission self-powered vehicles, improved air quality, noise reduction and recyclable materials;
  • Customer experience, including improving access and accessibility, optimising journey times, improved information systems, on-board and station connectivity, passenger comfort, analysis of customer feedback;
  • Railway operations, including improved dwell time at stations, optimised freight planning, better recovery from disruption, better information for frontline staff, real-time decision-making assistance, use of robotics to improve safety and security;
  • Optimised and cost-effective maintenance, including use of automation and robotics, automated cleaning, on-site maintenance of rolling stock, improved reporting of failures.

Project teams should include the owner of stations, rolling stock or infrastructure, an experienced railway organisation and an organisation that could become a customer. Organisations of any size may apply and Innovate UK expects to fund projects with total eligible costs between £100,000 and £400,000 .

Potential applicants can find out more and apply on the Innovation Funding Service website.

David Clarke,
Railway Industry Association.

Announcement of this £9.4 million ‘First of a Kind’ funding for new rail technologies was welcomed by the rail industry. David Clarke, technical director of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “It’s great news that £9.4 million is available for new projects that would make our railways even more green, reduce costs, improve customer experience and increase accessibility.

“As we look to the future, there are a number of opportunities where the UK rail industry could develop world leading capabilities – such as in the areas of materials, data, automation and energy – which could not only improve our own rail system, but also could help the UK export even more.

“I’d urge all companies, whether you have experience in the rail industry or not, to get involved in the ‘first of a kind’ competition and help develop innovations to improve our railways.”

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