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SBRI: FOAK 2022 cost efficiency and performance priorities for a reliable railway

Automotive & Transport
Project Size:
Share of up to £7,610,000

This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the Department for Transport (DfT). The aim of the competition is to deliver high maturity demonstrations of innovations to the UK railways.

This competition is part of a larger ‘first of a kind’ demonstrator initiative, on behalf of DfT. The initiative aims to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable technologies to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system. This competition is the sixth in the first of a kind portfolio.

This first of a kind competition has three themes:

  • Theme 1 - Low emissions and a greener railway
  • Theme 2 - Rail Freight
  • Theme 3 - Cost efficiency and performance priorities for a reliable railway (this theme). This will support industry cost efficiency and network performance priorities to support a reliable railway for customers.

Your project:

  • can start by 1 October 2022
  • must end by 31 March 2023
  • can last up to 6 months

To lead a project, you can:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or with others from business, research organisations, research and technology organisations or the third sector as subcontractors

Applicants are welcome from all sectors.

Your project must involve:

  • an owner of railway assets (for example stations, rolling stock or infrastructure)
  • an experienced railway organisation
  • a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer

These criteria can be met by a single organisation or up to three separate organisations.

You must also:

  • include a potential integration partner
  • have a letter of support signed by a senior individual, from a potential railway customer organisation

Proposals into this competition must already be high maturity at Rail Industry Readiness level 5 or above. You must evidence this as part of your application.

We welcome projects that include either an:

  • innovative start-up supply company that is already delivering in another sector
  • organisation with railway expertise, such as train operating companies, a freight operator, rolling stock manufacturers or operators and infrastructure owners

This competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian entity as lead or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian source.

Contracts will be awarded to a single legal entity only. However, if you can justify subcontracting components of the work, you can engage specialists or advisers. This work will still be the responsibility of the main contractor.

If you are awarded a contract, you will be required to exhibit your project at the 2023 Innovate UK annual rail exhibition. We will provide the space and advise you of any technology you need to organise.

You will also be able to lease equipment from the venue through us. The date and location of the event will be announced on the KTN website in December 2022. This is anticipated to be a live event.

If you have previously been funded for the same or similar innovations, you will not be eligible for this competition. Applications for this competition need to be materially different from previously funded innovations. The decision of Innovate UK and DfT on this matter will be final.

Your project can range in size up to total costs of between £150,000 and £250,000, inclusive of VAT for 6 months.

The aim of the first of a kind competitions, is to deliver demonstrations to the UK’s railways. These must support low emissions and a greener railway, enhance rail freight, and address a range of key network performance priorities.

You must demonstrate how proven technologies can be integrated into a railway environment for the first time as ‘first of a kind’ demonstrations. This competition aims to support innovative suppliers in preparation for market readiness.

Your project must create a highly interactive and innovative demonstrator. This should be in an environment where railway customers and industry representatives can witness the product as a compelling business proposition.

Example environments can include:

  • within a railway station
  • in rolling stock
  • on railway infrastructure
  • in the environment close to the railway

This list is not exhaustive, we may also consider demonstrators in settings highly representative of these environments.

You must describe your projects potential to be successfully exploited in a railway environment. We encourage you to discuss regulations, policy and other requirements with potential customer organisations before you submit your application.

Your project must:

  • gather evidence about integration challenges and explain how you will de-risk the integration
  • demonstrate to railway stakeholders and customers the commercial benefits of the solution
  • make taking up technologies less risky and faster
  • be pre-commercial
  • collect customer and performance feedback
  • provide a business case for using the solution in a commercial environment
  • consider the priorities of current and future franchises
  • include an evaluation phase, collecting data to support the cost benefit assessment of your proposed solution

You must provide evidence, showing your innovation can attract customers, get insurance, supply warranties, and attract financing.

Your evidence must show:

  • the technology works as designed when integrated into larger complex systems and delivers the expected outcomes
  • the technology is accepted by and delivers benefits for customers and the broader rail industry
  • there is revenue potential for the innovation within a real commercial context
  • the financing and business models can be delivered within a complex programme and consortium structure

You must demonstrate potential benefits to passengers and customers, including:

  • why customers would buy the product
  • how the funding will help applicants grow and result in broader economic benefits

We will give preference to applications which:

  • help the innovation to be formally accepted for use on the railway, for example, through obtaining test certificates or product acceptance approvals
  • offer innovations that can be used by multiple railway organisations

For your theme 3 - Industry cost efficiency and network performance priorities to support a reliable railway for customers project, you must work with a railway partner to deliver a demonstration of your innovation in a live railway environment.

You must also include an evaluation activity to identify the cost and benefits of your deliverables, and to support commercial uptake of your product.

You must present at an industry briefing event to highlight the benefits you can bring to the railways.

Demonstration Event

Your project must give a demonstration of your innovation in a live railway environment as a key deliverable and must be included as part of your milestones.

You must work with your railway partners to achieve this, obtaining all required permissions and approvals. This might take the form of a launch event at a railway station or depot, attended by a range of industry stakeholders with potential interest in your product.

Where required, the event may be online to access a wider selection of stakeholders, but in this case the events must be augmented by evidence of your deployment in a live railway environment.

You should de-risk all aspects of this before bidding into this competition to ensure that it can be delivered to the requirements of DfT and InnovateUK.

Evaluation Activity

You must complete an evaluation activity at the end of the project, measuring data to anticipate the commercial impact that adoption of the innovation will have on the railway network.

This can be a measurement of the time taken to complete a task, or the costs incurred before and after adoption of the technology. Alternatively, the activity might take the form of a survey of railway staff to solicit feedback and to anticipate cost-benefit. In all cases the collection of objective data where possible is preferred over the collection of subjective feedback.

This information should be used to inform the future business case for your innovation. Involvement of individuals with expertise in designing such evaluation activities will benefit your application.

Contracts will be given to successful applicants.

All proposals must demonstrate a credible and practical route to market, so your application must include a plan to commercialise your results.

Specific themes

Your project must focus on one or more of the following:

1. Plan resilience and recoverability

Changes to the timetable and associated resource plans have often resulted in adverse impacts on performance, making the timetable less resilient to any perturbation and hindering service recovery.

In this category we are looking for innovations that:

  • help to plan and accurately deliver the railway service
  • reduce the consequences of reactional delays, for example, delays in the network that are the result of a reaction to an event happening elsewhere on the railway system
  • improve the ability to accurately plan and deliver the railway timetable
  • help model the effects of deviation from the timetable on the delivery of the overall service, and to understand how the timetable might be designed from the outset to be resilient to such perturbations
  • help to understand the performance delivered by a timetable when the railway is operating in a marginally degraded state (timetable changes sometimes result in adverse changes in performance that are not forecasted or sufficiently understood, some with significant impact on performance metrics and passenger satisfaction)

2. Ancillary Plan to deliver right time, right traction from depot

The delivery of the right traction at the right time off the depot at the start of day is critical to on-time performance of the network throughout the day. Delays related to depots are primarily for 3 reasons:

  • a train is presented at the depot exit at the right time in working condition, but is the wrong type of traction or in the wrong configuration, for example, the wrong number of coaches, vehicles reversed, toilets unavailable
  • at the time a train was required, the depot exit it was not possible
  • a non-functioning unit was presented at the depot exit on time

In this category we are looking for innovation that:

  • helps a depot manager to understand which traction is where in the depot
  • helps to anticipate the stabling requirements within the depot given future traction requirements
  • ensures that trains are delivered to the depot exit correctly in terms of vehicle type, and configuration.
  • ensures vehicles are delivered to the depot exit at the correct time
  • ensures vehicles delivered to the depot exit are in a fully-operational state and are ready for service
  • helps to understand the design of current depots and also contributes to the design of future depots

3. Deterioration in network response to external events including trespass and suicide

The performance impact of external events has been increasing since 2017 to 2018, suggesting that the industry recovery processes are being weakened. The level of suicides and trespass increased during 2020-2021. In addition, the delay minutes per incident have increased.

In this category we are looking for innovation that:

  • reduces the delay minutes resulting from each trespass or suicide incident.
  • helps to re-open the network more rapidly after an incident (for both the affected line and adjacent lines)
  • expediates the re-starting of the network after an incident, and helps to restore normal service
  • identifies which specialist responders are required on site more rapidly after an incident has occurred
  • gets specialist responders to site more rapidly or that reduces the necessity of these individuals to be on the actual site.
  • re-certifies the railway more rapidly after an incident
  • delivers solutions to help expedite reactions to other unplanned external events for example, objects that have been deposited on the railway including trampolines, shopping trolleys, trees

Please note, this category focuses on the response to incidents. Prevention of incidents is also important but has been covered by other programs.

4. Operating staff availability

The number of incidents due to operating staff not being available to deliver the plan has increased substantially, and can cause wider impact on service recovery. In this category we are looking for innovation:

  • supporting railway staff to be in the right place at the right time, all of the time.
  • in rostering staff to optimise their availability, including when the railway is operating in a degraded mode

5. Weather, seasons and climate change

Performance suffers regular seasonal dips, particularly in Autumn, and is vulnerable to extreme weather events that may become more frequent due to climate change.

In this category we are looking for innovations that:

  • support a seasonally agnostic railway, one that delivers high-performance and safety outcomes, irrespective of the season
  • help to make the railway more resilient to climate factors for example, flooding, wind, coastal considerations
  • help to reduce the requirement for possessions in deploying seasonal mitigations and responding to incidents.

Please note, innovations proposed in this category must be focused on keeping the railway open, not on anticipating weather or seasonal considerations that might suggest closing the railway. Also note that adhesion related proposals are excluded as these have been covered by multiple other programs.

6. More efficient use of access for infrastructure maintenance

Improving and sustaining asset reliability requires maximising the amount of time spent on core activities whilst trains are not running.

In this category we are looking for innovations that help to:

  • deliver a possession more efficiently and helps to plan work-activities during a possession with more precision, for example, time left verses work still required to be completed
  • manage access to the infrastructure more efficiently, including briefing events, track access administration, post-possession activities
  • plan tasks during a possession more efficiently, for example, delivering multiple tasks during a single possession and to sequence tasks more efficiently during a possession
  • predict the impact of possessions on the overall network performance with a higher degree of precision

7. Removal of organisational or systemic blockers to deployment of performance initiatives

A whole-system approach to performance improvement requires industry collaboration, but industry contracts and process may inhibit progress.

In this category we are looking for innovation:

  • that adopts performance-related procedures from other sectors and supports their implementation on the railways, for example, learning from best-practice in aviation or automotive
  • in supporting whole system thinking and behaviours to deliver a higher performance railway
  • in procurement that makes it easier for the railway to adopt innovations more readily, and in a whole-system manner
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