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First of a Kind competition opens £9 million fund for rail innovators

Posted: 9 February 2021 | | No comments yet

The competition is calling for fresh thinking from rails inventors and innovators with ideas to improve passenger journeys and decarbonise the rail network.

First of a Kind

Credit: Department for Transport

The 2021 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition has launched, looking to find cutting-edge ideas to transform the future of rail.

The fifth round of the £9 million competition was launched by the UK’s Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, and Innovate UK at the Rail Innovation Exhibition.

With a focus on pioneering technology, FOAK looks for ideas to improve passenger journeys and make the rail network cleaner and greener.

To date, the competition has seen the Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK invest approximately £25 million to develop projects.

Past winners who have benefitted from investment include ‘HydroFLEX’, who used funding received from FOAK in both 2019 and 2020 to develop the UK’s first full-size hydrogen powered train to be run on the mainline railway.

Another previous winner is Seatfrog for their project ‘Train Swap’, enabling passengers to quickly and remotely update their seat reservation to an alternative service, and giving train operating companies the ability to move passengers proactively, managing load across the network. This innovation could help the industry adapt to the pandemic and ensure appropriate social distancing on services.

 Other projects to have benefitted from FOAK include:

  • Inspection drones capable of rapidly assessing the safety of rail infrastructure
  • Controlled water addition to remove the notorious problems of leaves on the line
  • Concrete slabs that automatically heat up to prevent icy platforms and passengers slipping
  • A ‘sound-bending’ wall to minimise the noise of passing trains in urban areas
  • Hydrogen-based steam turbines to drive zero-emission, low-noise rail freight.

“This country pioneered the railway, and that spirit of innovation and ingenuity has never been more vital as we look to build back better from this pandemic,” commented the UK Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris. “Our railways will underpin this country’s economic recovery and help realise our ambitions of a carbon neutral future. Through initiatives like the First of a Kind competition, we are investing today to build the railway of tomorrow.” 

Organisations have until 10 March 2021 to bid for funding.

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