A total of 11 out of the 25 winning entrants of the government’s £9.4 million First of a Kind (FOAK) 2020 competition to provide a better, more reliable and efficient railway for passengers and freight users are being supported by Network Rail.
Funded by the Department for Transport and managed by Innovate UK, the competition encourages innovation in the rail industry by asking companies for ambitious ideas that could transform the railway. The projects that will directly support Network Rail’s Research & Development (R&D) Portfolio include:
- Demonstrating low cost 10Gigabit+ connectivity for the railway
- Creating a novel and cost-effective composite footbridge for use on the railway
- Improving resilience through a surface water flooding decision support system
- Tunnel and station monitoring using railway optical detection to identify obstructions
- Integrated optical fibre sensing to optimise rail switches & crossings maintenance
Mark Gaddes, R&D third party funding and engagement manager at Network Rail, said: “We were delighted to encourage innovators to approach Network Rail with their proposals for this First of a Kind competition. The range and quality of ideas put forward was exceptional, and we’re looking forward to working with the winners to improve the railway for passengers.
“This will be particularly welcome when we can encourage more passengers back to the railway, but for now people should continue to follow Government advice around the use of public transport, and only travel if they have to.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The winners of this year’s First of a Kind competition 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 journeys simpler and easier.”
In addition to the FOAK 2020 competition, Network Rail continues its partnership with Innovate UK to run competitions using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) approach – where innovators compete for a share of funding to solve a certain challenge. Winners of the competitions that have been delivered so far proposed a number of solutions to address:
- Developing detection technology on the ends and edges of platforms to detect and reduce trespass on the railway
- Automating data processing for railway structure gauging – a process that ensures a safe distance exists between trains and structures such as tunnels
- Automating tunnel examinations and undertaking security surveillance and analytics to reduce the need for workers to monitor the network and test asset condition manually
Danielle Stephenson, project manager at Network Rail for the safety, security and analytics project said: “As a new member of the R&D team I have been blown away with the excellent ideas and solutions that the companies have come up with so far. I am looking forward to seeing them implemented in a live station environment in September.”
The solutions for all challenge areas under the four competitions will use information technology and machine learning. This provides an opportunity to carry out monitoring faster and generate information that is more consistent than could be achieved through the judgement of people. It also frees up our workforce to focus on keeping the network safe and available for passengers and freight users, rather than gathering data.
The competitions generated from the combined partnerships between Network Rail, Department for Transport and Innovate UK in the last year have collectively been worth over £15 million, with each initiative providing opportunities for smaller organisations to work with Network Rail to bring innovative technology into the railway. This is enabled through the support from Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network.
Kelvin Davies, Innovation Lead for Rail at Innovate UK, highlighted: “As the UK’s innovation agency we are here to support the best ideas from the UK’s most innovative companies. Through working with Network Rail we have seen the strength of interest, quality of applications and enthusiasm. This shows there is a real confidence that businesses large and small can grow by focussing on opportunities in rail. This is vital as we all work together to build a bigger, better and greener railway”.
These initiatives form part of Network Rail’s R&D portfolio for CP6 and will help drive improvements in efficiency and safety in the rail industry through new technology. The partnership with Innovate UK and the competition opportunities also fit with Network Rail’s desire to be easier to engage and work with as part of the Open for Business programme.