Funding competition SBRI rail first of a kind round 3: resilience, freight, noise and environment

Businesses can apply for a share of £5.5 million, including VAT, to develop demonstrators to enhance resilience, freight operations and the environment.

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 4 themes to choose from:

  1. Infrastructure resilience.
  2. Operational resilience.
  3. Freight.
  4. Noise and environment.

We expect to fund up to 16 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.

This competition closes at midday 12pm UK time on the deadline.

Funding type


Project size

We expect to fund projects with total eligible costs between £250,000 and £350,000, including VAT.

Who can apply

Your project

We expect to fund projects with total eligible costs between £250,000 and £350,000, including VAT.

Projects must plan to start by 1 July 2019 and can last no more than 9 months. All work must be completed by 31 March 2020. This completion date is fixed and non-negotiable.

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.

Lead applicant

You can work alone or collaborate with others as subcontractors.

To lead a project you:

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

Project team

Applicants are welcome from all sectors. Your project:

  • must involve an owner of railway assets (such as stations, rolling stock or infrastructure), an experienced railway organisation and a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer (this can be the same organisation or 3 separate organisations)
  • must include a potential integration partner
  • will ideally include an innovative start-up supply company that is already delivering in another sector
  • will ideally include an organisation with railway expertise, such as train operating companies, a freight operator, rolling stock manufacturers or operators and infrastructure owners
  • will ideally have a letter of support from a potential customer organisation

We understand it may be a challenge to access railway assets and get permission to make modifications. You will need to develop your own relationships with railway asset owners, but to get help building your consortium:

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


This is a single-phase competition with a total allocation of up to £5.5 million, including VAT. Projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the competition will be managed by Innovate UK.

We expect to split the funding evenly between the 4 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 encourage innovation in the rail industry. We will help innovative suppliers take the final step to market readiness. This is the third 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 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

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.

We will give preference to applications which:

  • help the innovation be formally accepted for use on the railway, such as through obtaining test certificates or product acceptance approvals
  • offer innovations that can be used by multiple railway organisations

We will apply a portfolio approach in this competition across the 4 themes.

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, for instance:

  • within a railway station
  • in rolling stock
  • on railway infrastructure
  • in the environment close to the railway

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

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
  • address elements of the 4 Cs:

  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
  • 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

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

Specific themes

You must focus on one of these 4 themes. These lists are not exhaustive and we will consider other topics within each theme.

Theme 1: infrastructure resilience

This can include:

  • innovations to protect critical elements of the rail infrastructure against adverse environmental conditions
  • adapting the railway for resilience against future weather conditions, perhaps arising from global warming
  • adding resilience to systems that directly impact on infrastructure
  • reliable and high integrity switches and crossings
  • real time monitoring and asset intelligence, through smart built-in sensors connected together in an ‘internet of things’
  • ensuring maximum availability of the railway system by carrying out repairs before assets fail and determining appropriate maintenance plans
  • improved application of friction management to extend rail life and prevent defects and derailments
  • optimised on-board and lineside energy storage technologies, such as ‘smart grids’, which allow the railway to move energy around the system according to demand
  • robotics, such as automating inspection and maintenance activities
  • level crossings, such as technologies to help prevent an incident or near-miss due to public behaviour
  • detection of geotechnical asset failure using data and other alternatives to driver reports
  • preventing bridge strikes

Theme 2: operational resilience

This can include:

  • vehicle to vehicle communication technologies
  • using data to inform train maintenance activities
  • dynamic timetables, including automatic rescheduling during periods of disruption
  • delivering personalised passenger information during disruption
  • seamless modal interchange during disruption, and onward travel for passengers
  • dynamic wayfinding during disruption
  • decision making supported by artificial intelligence
  • improving availability of passenger toilets on vehicles
  • improving the availability of vehicle air conditioning and heating
  • technologies to enhance the detection of hot axle boxes
  • technologies to reduce track circuit malfunction
  • innovation to optimise staff positioning and planning of rotas
  • innovation to reduce fracturing of vehicle windows
  • innovation to increase driving cab reliability
  • innovations to address graffiti (especially on vehicles)
  • innovation to support recovery operations after incidents and fatalities
  • holistic systems to automatically alert operators to incidents on trains (including medical and security events) and to provide a fast response

Theme 3: freight

This can include:

  • improved timetabling and scheduling, to allow a wider variety of freight to be shipped
  • 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
  • flexible interiors for light freight
  • noise impact of freight trains
  • freight handling automation
  • multi-functional rolling stock
  • innovation to make electrification compatible with freight depots
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

Theme 4: noise and environment

This can include:

  • innovations to mitigate engine noise
  • innovations to mitigate works engineering noise
  • reduction of noise from the overall railway system
  • environment in and around stations and depots
  • waste management
  • wildlife management and ecology
  • vegetation management

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 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 context
  • do not feature a demonstration phase, offering the customer a chance to use the innovation and give feedback

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

25 February 2019
Competition opens
26 February 2019

London briefing event

26 February 2019
Online briefing event
28 February 2019

Manchester briefing event

7 March 2019

Cardiff briefing event

17 April 2019 12:00pm
Registration closes
24 April 2019 12:00pm
Competition closes
24 May 2019
Applicants notified
21 June 2019

Contracts awarded

21 June 2019


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 using Microsoft Word

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 or your application will be ineligible. Be aware that opening the document using other software will make your application ineligible. 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
  • freight operators
  • train operating companies
  • infrastructure providers

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

Data you can use

The full range of Ordnance Survey’s (OS) geospatial data products is available without charge to all projects that are funded under this competition.

Open data products are freely available to download without restriction.

More detailed premium data products can be accessed by signing up to OS’s data exploration licence. Against the question ‘What do you plan to do with the data?’, select ‘Other’ and type ‘Rail Innovation: First of a Kind Round 3’ in the text box. OS will make arrangements to allow you to place orders for the required data.

You are also welcome to sign up for a free trial of OS’s mapping and data APIs.

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 £5.5 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 4 Cs, 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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