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SBRI: FOAK 2023 – Optimised Train Operations Rail Demonstrations

Automotive & Transport
Project Size:

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. Your project must support the overarching principle for FOAK (First of a Kind) 2023.

This competition is part of a larger ‘First of a Kind’ demonstrator initiative, on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) and High Speed Two (HS2) Limited. The initiative aims to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable technologies to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system.

The overarching principle for First of a Kind 2023 is cost efficiency and increasing value for money with the following priority themes:

Theme 1 – Customer Experience

Theme 2 – Reliable and Easy to Maintain Assets

Theme 3 – Optimised Train Operations (this competition)

You must select which scope theme you are applying for. If a project covers more than one theme, choose one where most of the work is being undertaken.

It is your responsibility to ensure you submit your application to the correct theme for your project. You will not be able to transfer your application and it will not be sent for assessment if it is out of scope.

This is a single phase competition.

In applying to this competition you are entering into a competitive process.

Any adoption and implementation of a solution from this competition would be subject to a separate, possibly competitive, procurement exercise. This competition does not cover the purchase of any solution.

This competition closes at 11am UK time on the date of the deadline.

The aim of the competition is to deliver high maturity demonstrations of innovations to the UK railways. Your project must support the overarching principle for FOAK 2023: cost efficiency and increasing value for money.

Delivering financial sustainability is a strategic objective of the long term strategy for rail and a pressing need for the sector, given a drop in revenue and increasing costs in the light of inflation.

Your project, regardless of priority theme, must demonstrate how you will improve value for money through increasing revenue or reducing costs whilst delivering positive outcomes related to this competitions theme which is: optimised train operations.

Your proposal must also provide robust evidence supported by a rail partner.

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.

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:

  • show how the technology delivers cost efficiency and increasing value for money to the railway industry and UK taxpayers
  • gather evidence about the 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

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 create a highly interactive and innovative demonstrator in a railway environment which will enable the most effective demonstration of the technology.

The most appropriate environment for this must be agreed with your rail industry partners. In their role as potential future customers, they will be well-placed to propose an appropriately representative railway environment.

This must be a railway environment where railway customers and industry representatives can witness the product as a compelling business proposition and must be as close to a live railway environment as possible.

The demonstration of your innovation is 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 must take the form of a launch event at, for example, a railway station or depot, attended by a range of industry stakeholders with potential interest in your product.

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, however, and others may be more appropriate to demonstrate certain types of technology.

Where required, the event may be online to access a wider selection of stakeholders. However, in this case the events must be augmented by evidence of your deployment in a 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 Innovate UK.

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 evaluation must be specific to your project and evaluate the immediate effectiveness of your technology and the project direct outputs and activities.

This can include the evaluation of the:

  • Increased capacity
  • Increased cost efficiency
  • Increased process efficiency
  • Improved data availability
  • Cost differences between new and old part
  • Increased service reliability and improvement in performance measures
  • Improved customer experience
  • Reduced number of closures or major incidents (absolute number)

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.

You must summarise your findings in your End of Project report. The report template will be provided to you at the beginning of your project.

Contracts will be given to successful applicants.

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

Specific themes

In this competition your project must focus on:

Theme 3 – Optimised Train Operations

In this theme we are seeking projects which will help improve train planning, decision making and services to support effective use of capacity and support train service delivery.

Possible examples include:

  • development and validation of new simulation tools to reflect the complexity of the railway and allow the outcomes of different optimisations to be compared and understood
  • innovation to prevent and help mitigate disruptions or aid service recovery after incidents – including new technology, such as drones
  • innovation to deliver integrated or shared data systems and connect disparate data sources to improve real-time operation and decision making across key functions
  • reduced disruption during signalling failures
  • innovation to allow Automation Train Regulation (ATR) to provide an enhanced regularly spaced service
  • innovation to improve system operation, including through improving the effectiveness of timetabling

Note that although software (also known as applications) for mobile devices may be in scope, only a limited number of these projects will be supported.

Research categories

Prototype development and evaluation

This can include prototyping, demonstrating, piloting, testing and validation of new or improved products, processes or services in environments representative of real-life operating conditions. The primary objective is to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that:

  • are not likely to be successfully exploited by the rail industry to deliver benefits to rail or light-rail organisations and their customers
  • are not within a year of being ready for market
  • do not create a significant change in the level of innovation available in the rail industry
  • are not already well-developed technology at Rail Industry Readiness level 5 or above, or do not have low technical risk
  • cannot effectively deliver a demonstration within a railway environment as required
  • do not feature a demonstration phase, offering potential customers a chance to use the innovation and give feedback
  • do not include an evaluation phase, and a plan to collect information to inform a cost or benefit analysis
  • have total eligible costs or project terms outside of the eligibility guidance
  • would directly duplicate other UK government or EU funded initiatives you have already been funded to deliver
  • are covered by existing commercial agreements to deliver the proposed solutions
  • do not address how any potentially negative outcomes, such as on the environment or society, would be managed

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