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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:

Your project:

  • can start by 1 October 2022
  • must end by 30 September 2023
  • can last up to 12 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.

Your project can range in size up to total costs of between £150,000 and £400,000, inclusive of VAT for 12 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 2 - Rail Freight 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:

  • innovation to support modal shift to rail for freight services
  • innovation to deliver rail freight growth, increase efficiency and meet future customer needs
  • improved timetabling and scheduling, to allow a wider variety of freight to be shipped, including keeping freight running during engineering work.
  • improved routing and tracking capabilities, for example to ensure that the railway can integrate fully with intermodal freight and services to develop new markets for light packed, high value goods
  • innovation which supports rail freight resilience
  • flexible interiors for light freight
  • innovation to reduce the noise impact of freight trains
  • innovation to decarbonise rail freight and to improve air quality
  • freight handling automation
  • multi-functional rolling stock
  • innovation to make electrification compatible with freight depots
  • innovation to increase average speed and to support high-speed rail freight services to improve competitiveness with other modes
  • delivery of freight by rail into congested city centres.
  • next generation logistics
  • automated modal interchanges, allowing freight to be transferred quickly and efficiently for onward transit
  • innovation to support freight operations during railway construction, such as spoil disposal
  • better wagon design and maintenance
  • improved operation through new freight hubs
  • self-assembling consists
  • repurposing of redundant passenger and freight rolling stock
  • freight solutions which work in tandem with passenger services
  • innovation that might support future autonomous freight trains
  • lower cost of whole life operation for rail freight
  • innovation to make rail freight more competitive compared to other transport modes and to reduce freight costs
  • passenger luggage solutions
  • innovation in freight diversionary activities
  • last mile interface for freight delivery
  • reduction of end-to-end freight journey times
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