More than £6 million of government funding has been made available for companies with innovative ideas to improve Britain’s railways as Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, launched the latest First of a Kind (FOAK) competition today (14 June 2023).
Under the themes of cost efficiency and increasing value for money, the competition – now in its seventh year – is inviting applicants to put forward proposals for technology that can offer a better customer experience, more reliable services and improved methods to install high-speed rail systems that could slash installation times.
For the first time, this year’s competition is in partnership with HS2 Ltd, which is offering £1 million of funding for innovations to speed up or cut costs of high speed rail systems installations.
Rail Minister Huw Merriman said:
This is an incredible opportunity not just for businesses but for the entire rail industry. Every year, this competition brings together the best and the brightest whose talent and ingenuity help to solve problems we’re facing and drive our railways forward.
This year, we’ll be bringing even more trailblazing projects to life by funding ideas that benefit the passenger, encourage efficiency and transform our rail network for the better.
This year’s competition follows on from 6 successful rounds and a total of almost £50 million in funding, which has seen a range of innovative projects hit the market and improve the day-to-day running of the railways. This includes:
- Seat Frog’s Train Swap product, used across 8 operators, which allows passengers to swap train tickets without having to purchase a new one, as well as bid for last-minute first-class upgrades
- Hack Partners’ Hubble technology, which uses train-mounted cameras to identify and address lineside maintenance issues, such as faults with overhead lines, reducing delay times and costly repairs
- Transreport’s technology, which enables passengers with disabilities to request assistance quickly and easily while on the move, as well as keeping them updated on any disruption on their journeys
There are also a number of winning projects in the pipeline, which are set to become commercial in the coming years. This includes the University of Birmingham’s project developing hydrogen-powered trains, which will be crucial to decarbonising the railways and achieving the UK’s net zero plans.
Further funding is also being awarded to 2 of FOAK’s 2022 winners, so that they may enter the second phase of testing, giving them a better chance of being brought into commercial use. The 2 projects – one that makes it easier to charge train batteries and the other, which uses kinetic energy to cut emissions from diesel trains – have been granted almost £1.5 million in additional funding between them as they represent the most promising projects as part of the ‘low emissions and a greener railway’ theme.