UK DfT awards funding for new tech to revolutionise rail travel

Posted: 22 June 2020 | | No comments yet

The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT), in partnership with Innovate UK, has awarded 25 pioneering projects a share of £9.4 million to fund innovative projects that will make railways cleaner, greener and more passenger-friendly.

UK DfT awards funding for new tech to revolutionise rail travel

Twenty-five projects across Great Britain have won a share of £9.4 million in the DfT’s fourth round of First of a Kind (FOAK) competition, which encourages innovation in the rail industry.

Inventors have come forward with a host of ambitious projects to transform rail travel, including low-energy concrete slabs that automatically heat up in freezing conditions to help prevent passengers from slipping on icy platforms and the Seatfrog Train Swap app, which will allow passengers to quickly and remotely update their seat reservation to another service.

Several winning projects will also help the government reduce the railway’s environmental impact and support decarbonisation, including a world-first zero emission machine for removing and replacing rails, and hydrogen-based steam turbines to provide zero-emission, low-noise rail freight.

Other schemes supported by the competition include next-generation lightweight composite poles to provide passengers with faster, more reliable 5G Wi-Fi, and the development of safer and more resilient glazing for train windows to help prevent glass windows being smashed and protect passengers.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “I am delighted to announce the winners of this year’s FOAK competition, which will support better, more environmentally friendly journeys. Crucially, these pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway, making their journeys simpler and easier. From clever technology on platforms to prevent icy surfaces, new ‘seat-switching’ apps and improved 5G Wi-Fi connections, harnessing innovation will be crucial to modernising the network and making our railways greener and cleaner, as we build beyond coronavirus (COVID-19) and look to the future.

Ian Campbell, executive chair of Innovate UK, said: “These high-quality projects illustrate the appetite of UK organisations to develop new and exciting innovations for rail transport that improve customers’ user experience, optimise railway efficiency, and are environmentally sustainable.”

Now in its fourth year, the FOAK competition was open to organisations of all sizes and sectors whose technologies could help to create a greener, more cost-effective and customer-friendly railway with greater capacity.

Just some of the winners and the projects include: iProov, to demonstrates how biometrics can dramatically enhance the passenger experience, reduce congestion, improve safety and enhance security; Unipart Rail Limited, to establish a zero-emissions machine that removes and replaces rails; the BCRRE, for a power pack design to enable a hydrogen train to work in service, minimising the loss of passenger saloon space; and Vortex IoT Limited, for sensors and data analysis tools to detect and identify intrusion and obstructions on the track, and send real time situational alerts to the rail control centre to prompt further investigation.

Previous winners include new technology from Porterbrook in partnership with emissions specialist Eminox, which successfully reduces harmful emissions from diesel trains by over 90 per cent.

South Western Railway (SWR) completed a six-month trial in March of the technology that saw an emissions reduction system fitted to the exhaust of a Class 159 train used by passengers between Waterloo and Exeter.

The trial delivered immediate reductions in pollution from nitrous oxides by over 80 per cent and hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter by more than 90 per cent, and is the first successful transfer of proven automotive technology to a rail environment.

OpenSpace Thameslink also received funding for its plans to provide station management with a set of next-generation tools to help with crowd management at London St Pancras International. The project, in conjunction with Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd, immediately found this helped with easing crowds to help maintain social distancing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.