Funding competition SBRI first of a kind round 2: demonstrating tomorrow’s stations and a greener railway

Businesses can apply for a share of £3.5 million, including VAT, to develop demonstrators for decarbonisation of the railway and customer experience in stations.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition and is open to organisations of all sizes. The aim of the competition is to demonstrate innovations to stakeholders and railway customers in a representative railway environment.

This competition has 2 themes to choose from:

  1. Customer experience in stations.
  2. Decarbonisation of the railway.

We expect to fund up to 12 projects. The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation. The contract will be awarded to the lead applicant. Other organisations can be involved in the project as subcontractors.

If your project’s total costs fall outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to at least 10 days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.

Funding type


Project size

We expect to fund projects with total costs between £250,000 and £350,000, including VAT. Projects must plan to start by 1 March 2019 and can last up to 9 months. Projects longer than 9 months will not be supported.

Who can apply

To lead a project you:

  • can be an organisation of any size
  • must carry out your project work in the UK

Applicants are welcome from all sectors. Your consortium:

  • must include a potential integration partner
  • must involve a railway asset owner (stations, rolling stock, infrastructure), an experienced rail organisation and a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer (these can all be the same organisation)
  • will ideally include an innovative start-up supply company that is already delivering in another sector
  • will ideally include an organisation with rail expertise, such as a train operating company, rolling stock manufacturer, or operator and infrastructure owner

Partners may only be involved on a subcontract basis.

We understand accessing railway assets and getting permission to make modifications may present a challenge. You will need to develop your own relationships with rolling stock, station and infrastructure asset owners, but to get help building your consortium:

  • attend the competition briefing and consortium-building events
  • contact the Knowledge Transfer Network
  • contact rail organisations such as the Rail Industry Association

We encourage you to work with other projects in this competition. You will have the chance to build these relationships at briefing events.


This is a single-phase competition with a total allocation of up to £3.5 million, including VAT. Projects will be 100% funded.

We expect to split the funding evenly between the 2 themes, but we reserve the right to manage the portfolio for the best use of this public funding.

Applications must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively for research and development (R&D) services. For this competition, your application should focus on prototyping and field-testing your product or service in a representative railway environment. R&D does not include:

  • commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to demonstrate how proven technologies can be integrated into a railway environment for the first time (‘first of a kind’ demonstrations). It aims to stimulate innovation in the rail industry. We will help innovative suppliers take the final step to market readiness. This is the second in a series of first of a kind (FOAK) rail competitions.

You must prove you have a well-developed innovation with a high technology readiness level (TRL) that delivers the expected outcomes when integrated in complex real-world railway applications.

We will fund integration and direct user testing. Your solution must be field-tested and ready for use with an end customer by the end of your project.

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, passenger-experience and de-carbonisation benefits

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

  • within a railway station
  • in rolling stock
  • on railway infrastructure

We may also consider demonstrators in settings highly representative of these environments.

Your application must demonstrate potential benefits to passengers and customers, including:

  • why customers would buy the product
  • how the funding will help companies in the consortium grow and result in broader economic benefits
  • how you will obtain a clear route to market

Your project must:

  • 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
  • address elements of the 4Cs:

  1. Costs: reducing by 50% or more.
  2. Capacity: doubling.
  3. Carbon: halving emissions.
  4. Customers: improving their experience.

  • provide relevant proofs, so your innovation can attract customers, get insurance, supply warranties and attract financing

The relevant proofs are:

  • 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
  • the 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

In normal circumstances applicants will keep all rights to their intellectual property (IP).

We will assess your proposal for its 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.

Specific themes

You can focus on one of these 2 themes.

Theme 1: decarbonisation of the railway

This is a recognised priority across the network, including innovation in stations, rolling stock and infrastructure. Priorities in this theme include:

  • transferring ideas from other sectors, such as automotive or aerospace
  • stations with a zero carbon footprint
  • improvements in air quality in stations and throughout the surrounding area
  • innovative powertrain and energy storage systems for rolling stock
  • alternatives to fossil fuels based on advances in automotive, to reduce noise and pollution with more self-powered rail vehicles
  • battery or dual power systems, such as on-board energy storage or hybrid powertrains with greater operational flexibility and potentially cheaper electrification schemes
  • examining the energy requirements of the whole system and optimising efficiency with a more flexible and integrated energy system, including constructing new railways
  • lightweight, energy-efficient rolling stock
  • a more holistic approach to energy use, making better use of energy generation and storage technologies to reduce operational costs and carbon footprints
  • other technologies that deliver significant benefits in terms of decarbonisation to the railway station environment

Theme 2: customer experience in stations

This is about integrating an innovative technology in a railway station for the first time. The goal is to fit a single ‘station of the future’ with several innovative solutions to enhance the passengers’ experience. Priorities include:

  • a seamless, accessible end to end journey
  • accessibility for everyone, including those with less visible impairments
  • ticketless gate lines and barrier-free access without compromising revenue protection (making sure customers pay the right fare), for example by using wireless technology in place of physical ticket barriers
  • virtual assistant technology and enhanced dynamic wayfinding (digital signage)
  • influencing behaviour, such as through ‘nudging’ techniques
  • providing reliable, consistent information during disruption and/or offsetting negative effects
  • passenger management

These lists are not exhaustive and we may consider other topics.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund applications 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 high TRL or do not have low technical risk
  • have collaborations that cannot effectively deliver a demonstration within a railway environment
  • do not deliver an immersive innovative demonstrator in a railway vehicle, a railway station, or on the infrastructure that enhances the customer experience or delivers carbon reductions
  • do not feature a demonstration phase, offering the customer a chance to use the innovation and give feedback

8 October 2018
Competition opens
9 October 2018
York briefing event
9 October 2018
Online briefing event
11 October 2018
London briefing event
17 October 2018
Cardiff briefing event
21 November 2018 12:00pm
Registration closes
28 November 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
11 January 2019
Applicants notified
8 February 2019
Phase 1 contracts awarded
8 February 2019
Feedback issued

Before you start

To apply:

  • register online using the green button
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • consider attending one of the briefing events listed in ‘Dates’
  • complete and upload your online application to our secure server

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential. Innovate UK may share details of your application with the Department for Transport (DfT), in keeping with our privacy notice. DfT will also see your project’s progress reports and will expect to be invited to the quarterly progress meetings.

A selected panel of experts will assess the quality of your application. You must use the unique application form sent to you, and complete it in Microsoft Word. Subject to meeting the quality threshold, we reserve the right to manage the portfolio to achieve the correct balance of projects and funding.

Background and further information

The stakeholders for this competition include:

  • Network Rail
  • London Underground
  • HS1
  • HS2
  • Crossrail
  • rolling stock operating companies
  • train operating companies
  • infrastructure providers

Representatives from these organisations will be invited to the competition briefing events to discuss their priorities.

About SBRI competitions

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness. SBRI supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services. It does this through the public procurement of research and development (R&D). SBRI generates new business opportunities for companies and provides a route to market for their ideas. It also bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies.

First of a Kind initiative

Innovate UK is launching this £3.5 million competition as part of a larger ‘First of a Kind’ demonstrator initiative. This is on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable technologies to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system.

Rail industry

The UK rail industry transports 1.7 billion passengers and 110 million tonnes of freight each year. Since 1997/98 the number of trains has increased by 28% and the demand for rail transport is projected to increase by 58% over the next 10 years. Light rail and local transport systems in the UK’s major cities are expanding quickly, offering enhanced transport options and creating opportunities for UK businesses.

Rapid growth and changing customer expectations present a challenge to the rail and light-rail industries. Current and conventional engineering and operational solutions are struggling to meet demand. New technologies can help with these challenges and open new markets. This can create a sustainable rail industry that offers better services, better journeys and better value.

The strategic goals, typically referred to as the 4Cs, sum up the vision for the future railway:

  • costs: reducing by 50% or more,
  • capacity: doubling,
  • carbon: halving emissions
  • customers: improving their experience

At the same time the railway must continue to operate safely.

For more information on the railway industry’s priorities, please refer to:

Further help and information

You can find information on how to enter this competition in the invitation to tender document, which is available for download on our secure site after registration.

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357.

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