DfT names winners of £5m rail innovation fund

Projects include self-charging trains, suicide-prevention technology and new ways to carry freight
New transport secretary Mark Harper

By Jim Dunton

16 Nov 2022

The Department for Transport has selected 24 innovative projects to share a £5m fund that aims to develop new ways to improve train travel, save lives and decarbonise the nation’s rail network.

Its First of a Kind 2022 competition has allocated development funding of up to £400,000 to schemes that will allow electric trains to run on non-electrified sections of track, give an early warning about potential suicide attempts, and find new ways of carrying freight.

Rail logistics firm Varamis has been awarded £396,467 for its project to repurpose former passenger carriages for high-speed parcel-delivery services that are being developed in conjunction with industry giants DHL and FedEx

Echion Technologies, meanwhile, is developing batteries that will charge from overhead wires and use that stored energy to “leapfrog” across unelectrified sections of track and, effectively, create self-charging trains.

New sensors developed by Thales Ground Transportation Systems can detect people approaching tracks, pin down their location, and give staff an early warning that could allow the prevention of suicides or stop protesters getting on lines. The project has been given a grant of £233,660.

Transport secretary Mark Harper said the UK had a long history of leading the way in railway innovation and the First of a Kind competition was a way of “getting the great brains of today to create the trains of tomorrow”.

“Through millions of pounds worth of government funding, we are breathing life into ideas that will revolutionise our railways and make them greener than ever before,” he said.

“This is just the beginning and, as transport secretary, I am determined to support British innovation and create a cutting edge, green rail industry that delivers even more benefits for passengers and freight.”

Other winning projects for 2022 include: automatic systems that detect and stop track flooding; state-of-the-art electric drivetrains that replace polluting diesel engines; and new tech to instantly relay track information to improve and modernise rail safety.

Funding is being distributed by Innovate UK on behalf of DfT through the small-business research initiative.

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