Minister launches £9m competition to decarbonise railways


The Government and Innovate UK have launched a £9m competition to find new ideas to transform and decarbonise the railways.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris unveiled the 2021 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition, which is now in its fifth round and focused on technology to improve journeys for passengers and make a greener, cleaner rail network.

Organisations have until 10 March to bid for funding.

Last year, 25 projects received a share of £9.4m, and to date, the competition has seen the Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK invest around £25m to help develop projects including:

  • HydroFLEX – the first mainline testing of a hydrogen train
  • 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
Chris Heaton-Harris

Mr Heaton-Harris said: '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.

'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.'

The competition is delivered by Innovate UK - now part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the government - on behalf of the DfT and through the Small Business Research Initiative.

Simon Edwards, deputy executive chair and chief business officer at Innovate UK, said: 'A greener railway, easier for everyone, with a better experience for users is the aim of this competition. It seeks the best and brightest ideas. Innovative companies all over the UK have proved their Imettle in previous rounds of this scheme.

'Now we call again for even more fresh thinking to help deliver a better and greener railway that delivers for passengers and freight users.'

Another previous winner was 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,' the DfT said.

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