The Government has announced the 24 projects awarded a share of £7.8m to develop innovations on the railway, including one to address the thorny issue of leaves on the line.
The winning bids in the third round of the First of a Kind (FOAK) competition also include drones capable of inspecting railway infrastructure, hydrogen train trials and a sound-bending wall to cut noise pollution.
Rail minister Andrew Jones MP
The competition is Run by Innovate UK and funded by the DfT to support research, development and innovation in the UK rail industry.
The themes for the third round were strengthening resilience of railway infrastructure and operations, enhancing rail freight services, and reducing environmental and noise impacts
Each of the winning schemes will receive between £250,000 and £350,000.
A scheme to provide ‘improved braking through controlled water addition’ will get £349,440. Its promoter, CoCatalyst Limited, said it had discovered that the low adhesion caused by the notorious problem of leaves on the line ‘doesn’t occur at all on days with heavy rain, even during Autumn’.
Its solution creates ‘rainy day’ conditions by spraying a small amount of water from the train to the track when a slippery rail is detected. CoCatalyst said the idea has been shown to work well on a test train but that its new project aims to extend the work to prove the benefits on a passenger service train.
In a press statement, officials and ministers avoided any mention of leaves on the line, widely regarded by the public as a joke.
Rail minister Andrew Jones said: ‘The First of a Kind competition has consistently produced truly innovative projects developed for the benefit of passengers, helping to drive forward a greener, cleaner and more efficient rail network.
‘This round has been the biggest yet and I am excited to see how our funding will bring these ambitious ideas to fruition.’
Another successful project is a plan to develop a noise-reducing wall that works by diffracting sound waves from passing trains upwards.
A drone system that could carry out track inspections from the skies, avoiding the need for people to set foot on railway infrastructure, is also a winner.
And the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research is receiving cash for its plans to undertake the first mainline testing of a hydrogen-fuelled train in the UK.
The first round of FOAK saw 10 projects share £3.5m to develop ideas to improve passenger experience and 'demonstrate tomorrow’s trains'.
The second round focused on schemes aimed at cutting the carbon footprint on the UK’s railways and enhancing stations for passengers. Again, 10 projects shared of £3.5m.