HomeRail NewsConcepts sought for the future of train technology

Concepts sought for the future of train technology

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Within the rail industry and among its customers, there is broad recognition of the need to innovate in order to improve efficiency and reduce cost. This brings an important opportunity for the UK to promote growth in its supply chain. Engineering consultancy, Frazer- Nash will be working with the Enabling Innovation Team (EIT) to stimulate both innovation and British business in a new project known as the ‘Radical Train’ which is aiming to demonstrate the train of the future.

Other UK industries have benefitted from a long-term vision and developing the innovations necessary to deliver on it. The automotive industry for example, recognised the need to invest in innovation several years ago. This recognition led to the identification of technologies in which the UK could excel and, as a result of this focus, the UK is now a leader in low carbon vehicle technology.

The rail industry in the UK can learn from experience in other sectors and the vision developed in the Rail Technical Strategy 2012 is an excellent place to start. It is at this point that the EIT begins to move things forward.

The Enabling Innovation Team

Close up of a flower on a railway trackThe Enabling Innovation Team has been established to accelerate innovation in the railway. In particular it focuses on moving business solutions and technologies from prototype through to demonstration and eventual implementation. It has backing from across the industry at the highest levels, including the Rail Delivery Group, Technical Strategy Leadership Group, Planning Oversight Group, Rail Standards and Safety Board (RSSB) and the Department for Transport. Hosted by RSSB, the EIT is funded initially by a grant from DfT. The 2012/13 grant of £16.7 million will be used as a Rail Innovation Fund to support innovation demonstrator projects. The EIT is actively working to secure and leverage additional funding.

With a clear understanding of the challenges facing the industry, the ability to connect potential innovators with these challenges and, where necessary, provide potential funding, the EIT wants to see innovation embedded as part of everyday business and will stimulate UK Industry and Universities to meet the challenge. Innovation is often held back by a circular argument that investment is needed to prove that an idea works, but there is a perceived risk in investing until that idea can be shown to work.

Demonstration projects therefore take innovation out of the lab and onto the track to prove that they work and make the case for further business led investment.

The EIT will be working with organisations around the UK to help innovators navigate the complex industry landscape and identify the most appropriate route to market. The EIT is seeking to help the rail industry and its supply chain increase capability, reduce cost, reduce carbon and improve customer experience. The McNulty Rail Value for Money study estimated that such investment in innovation could generate whole industry benefit cost ratios of between 3:1 and 5:1.

To maximise the funding available for rail industry innovation, the EIT team will be collaborating with other funders. So, in general, funding for each of the projects will need to be matched by industry contributions. If you have an interesting idea addressing the identified challenges that you are unable to progress but you are willing to invest typically 50% of the cost, then the fund may be able to help. Projects will be prioritised against the whole portfolio of applications before any funding decision is made.

EIT director David Clarke, commented: “The EIT is a really exciting opportunity for industry to deliver new concepts to the rail market in a meaningful and efficient way. We are looking forward to working with all types of companies to contribute to the vision of the future railway”.

Radical Train

The Radical Train project is exploring the potential to develop a new train which will offer a measurable step change in performance on UK railways and develop train systems and sub-systems with international market potential. Importantly, there is no set correct answer for this competition as the outcome of this project could be a whole vehicle and/or radical developments in major sub systems. It really is that open. David Clarke continues, “The Radical Train challenge is an exciting opportunity to seek out and demonstrate game-changing innovations to the UK railway, proving not only that the idea can become an innovation, but also that there is a real benefit to implementation.”

Richard Jones, business manager for rail at Frazer-Nash, added: “This is a unique chance for innovative organisations, and not just those within the rail industry, to put forward their ideas for radically improving trains in the UK. We are delighted to be managing this exciting initiative and we are looking forward to receiving some inventive proposals.”Motion blur high speed train in subway [online]

Other EIT projects

The EIT will be building a portfolio of demonstrator projects and will drive new concepts through to demonstration to bring implementation within reach. The strategy includes consideration of projects that can deliver benefits to the railway and foster economic growth in the short, medium and long term.

The portfolio consists of a range of targeted initiatives addressing innovation across technology, supply chain and business process.

In addition to the Radical Train, there are plans to include a Remote Condition Monitoring pilot and a Customer Experience prize competition at a later date.

All EIT projects will be developed and managed through a five-stage process. Additionally, there is an on-going open application route for concepts which have a demonstrable business case.

This is an exciting time for the rail industry and a singular opportunity to make a leap forward. Radical Train is the first of several EIT projects that have the potential to stimulate real innovation while also encouraging growth and diversity in the UK rail industry supply chain. Get involved!

Getting Involved

If you think you could contribute to the Radical Train project, you can register your interest at radicaltrain@ futurerailway.org. Hurry, the final deadline is 3 May.

Frazer-Nash will carry out a technological assessment of the ideas submitted and, in conjunction with EIT, shortlist a minimum of three to be taken forward to demonstrator stage.

The Future Railway concept is based on the Rail Technical Strategy (RTS), the 30-year look ahead published in December 2012 and which also drew on Frazer-Nash’s work in the area of whole-system reliability.

In addition to the outlined targeted calls, the EIT also has a funding route available to innovators for ideas outside of our other projects. If you have an innovation that you believe could have a significant impact on the industry and would benefit from a demonstration project, please contact the EIT via [email protected].

All correspondence will be considered non-confidential until an appropriate confidentiality agreement is in place.


  1. Strange reference in the text to “UK” – I would have thought at a minimum this is a europe-wide benefit, and more probably global in scope. Lightweight track and track support / foundation systems are also needed – particularly to match the lightweight “tram trains” envisaged. The one piece of innovation I’d like to see investigated is the uni-rail idea with gyroscopically balanced vehicles. It was tried out in 1915 but never got anywhere. Should make track-laying a doddle, even if the vehicles themselves are a little more complicated.


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