April 12, 2021

New first of a kind competition to showcase existing technology that can transform tomorrow’s train journeys

Innovative real-time working models of ideas that can transform rail passenger travel could be set to benefit from a £3.5m fund launched today (Monday 30 October) by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The first of a kind (FOAK) competition invites bids from companies to fund existing innovations, which may be in use outside the rail industry but which can be transferred to benefit rail passengers. This could, for example, be creating more space in carriages or providing more assistance to passengers with a diverse range of needs.

The competition, run by the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK, is part of the DfT’s wider Accelerating Innovation in Rail (AIR) scheme, aimed at introducing cutting-edge ways of improving the whole passenger experience on rail such as helping rail services to run efficiently and on time.

The AIR scheme is aimed at developing ideas from concept, whereas the FOAK scheme aims to fund ideas already working in the real world, but which can be successfully transferred to the rail industry. As they already exist, under the scheme, passengers will be able to use them in trials and give feedback.

The first challenge in the FOAK competition is rolling stock – with organisations invited to bid for funding for existing technology not previously used on trains and examine how they can be integrated. Later funding will focus on other aspects of the railway network.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “As well as encouraging innovative ideas from concept, we want to help develop existing ideas that can be transferred successfully to the rail industry for the benefit of passengers. The aim of government, train operators and infrastructure managers is to put passengers at the heart of everything we do. If we can help fund development of these inventive and ground-breaking ideas then this will help support the biggest modernisation programme in rail since the Victorian era.”

Ian Meikle, Innovate UK’s director, Infrastructure Systems, said: “Passenger experience should be at the heart of the UK’s future railway. That is why we want to unlock the talent of UK companies to demonstrate tomorrow’s trains today. This first of a kind competition will result in tangible, realistic prototypes that have the potential to meet the challenges of passenger journeys.”

Gordon Wakeford, Chair of the Rail Supply Group, commented: “The rail supply sector is continually seeking to improve the passenger experience by developer new and better products and solutions. This competition will provide a stimulus for the many innovative companies in our sector to develop new and ground-breaking ways to enhance rail journeys. I am confident that the rail industry will rise to this challenge with commitment and creativity.”