Accelerating innovation in rail round 4


Innovate UK, on behalf of the Department for Transport (DFT), is to invest up to £9 million to support growth in national and international rail markets. This is a joint initiative with the rail industry under the direction of its technical leadership group, the team responsible for the definition of the future vision for the railways.

Proposals must be collaborative, business-led and involve a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME). Projects must clearly present the benefits to business and the impact on UK and international rail.

They expect to fund industrial research projects with business partners generally attracting up to 50% public funding for project costs (with 60% to 70% for SMEs).

This is a single-stage competition. Total project costs should be in the range of £150,000 to £1 million. We can consider projects outside this range. Project duration should be up to 12 months.

Competition Themes:

High-value, low-cost railway innovations

Increasing the value of rail services for passengers while driving down operational costs is a priority. There are significant opportunities to innovate to:

  • design, build and operate railway infrastructure at reduced cost
  • help to make lightly used lines more affordable
  • improve the business case for expanding existing and future routes

Innovations in this theme need not be constrained by existing railway standards. Projects may drive initiatives that enhance industry standards and bring track and train operations much closer together.

The route to market is also critical. A practical approach may see innovations tested and demonstrated on lightly used lines, then transferred to more heavily congested network areas.

This theme includes innovations that:

  • see railway tracks and trains as part of an integrated system and optimise design to deliver whole-system solutions
  • adopt ideas and technologies from other sectors, such as automotive or aerospace
  • integrate with light-rail and mainline rail to improve reliability and lower costs of vehicles, track or supporting infrastructure
  • develop near-to-market innovations to reduce operating costs for existing or future network and rolling stock. The focus will be on innovations that can be brought to market within 3 years
  • reduce lifecycle costs for the design of lightweight, energy-efficient rolling stock, railway infrastructure and energy systems
  • help deliver optimal staffing for a high-value, low-cost railway

Other innovations may also be considered where significant technical and exploitation potential can be demonstrated.

Improving customer experience through stations

Optimising station design can enhance the performance of the rail network and wider transport system, and improve the passenger experience. For instance, human-centred design can make accessing stations and trains easier and quicker. Better interconnections between transport modes enhance the overall travel experience.

This competition theme will include innovations that:

  • optimise passenger movements through stations and improve loading and unloading trains
  • support passengers’ end-to-end journeys, incorporating more than one transport mode
  • assist passengers in joining and leaving the rail network by providing dynamic connecting transport options, tailored to meet customer demand and preference. For instance: improved accessibility at stations to deliver intelligent mobility; maximising connectivity through improved parking or onward transport options
  • use smart techniques to manage passenger flows, either through innovation in station design or operation
  • segregate passengers in boarding and alighting and use techniques to influence behaviour to separate passenger flow
  • improve route-planning or wayfinding technologies to help passengers find directions
  • improve real-time journey information to enable passengers to select a service based on:
    • capacity
    • available amenities
    • precise, real-time journey information
  • influence customer choices and shape service provision
  • understand passengers’ journey preferences to provide real-time, personalised guidance
  • help railway operations be more flexible and respond dynamically to changes in customer attitudes and behaviours
  • innovation in gate-lines, including the removal of physical barriers, controlling customer flows and using alternative methods to manage revenue protection
  • assist with luggage location, identification and tracking
  • enhance catering options, including enabling pre-ordering, station collection, ordering in transit, or at-seat delivery
  • enhance environmental and sensory experiences (including train and station interiors). For example, digital interaction, dynamic lighting, scent, noise-cancelling, audio, or other factors contributing to the passenger experience

Other innovations may also be considered where significant technical and exploitation potential can be demonstrated.

Other considerations:

Applications are welcome both from within and outside the rail sector. We encourage consortia to work in partnership with organisations that have rail sector expertise, either directly or in an advisory role.

The competition’s consortium-building events are designed to introduce non-rail organisations to stakeholders and potential partner organisations from the rail sector. Applications must address specific challenges faced by organisations in the rail industry.

Key organisations include direct suppliers to the industry, or ‘challenge owners’ including Network Rail, London Underground, HS1, HS2, Crossrail, infrastructure providers, train operating companies, rolling-stock operators. They also include a number of rail and light-rail projects currently in the planning phase.

Proposals must account for human behaviour to ensure acceptance by users (rail industry employees or passengers). Projects must support end-to-end proofs-of-concept and demonstrate how the technologies can be scaled up in a flexible way.

Proposals will be assessed on the potential for successful exploitation in a railway environment. Applicants are encouraged to discuss requirements in relation to regulations and policy with potential customer organisations prior to finalising submissions. More information is provided in the guidance for applicants.

Key Dates:

Competition opens Midday Monday 20 March 2017
Competition briefing and
consorium building events
Tuesday 21 March 2017 in London
Wednesday 29 March 2017 in Cardiff
Thursday 6 April 2017 in Manchester
Registration deadline Midday on Wednesday 10 May 2017
Application deadline Midday on Wednesday 17 May 2017

How to apply:

If you are interested in this competition, please email the Innovation SuperNetwork team at or complete the form below so we can help you and guide you through the application process.

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Our work is only possible with the support of our local and national partners, including Innovate UK, the Knowledge Transfer Network, the North East LEP, Northumbrian WaterNorth East BIC, and Reece Innovation with part funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
Huge thanks go to all our partners.