Funding competition SBRI: innovation in automated survey processing for railway structure gauging, phase 1

Businesses can apply for a share of £720,000, plus VAT, to develop a demonstrator for automated railway structure gauging processing.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


This is phase 1 of a 2-phase Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition open to organisations of all sizes based in the UK, EU or EEA. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1.

Network Rail will invest up to £720,000 (plus VAT) in phase 1 of this competition. An extra £1,080,000 (plus VAT) will be available for phase 2. This will support the development of a technological demonstrator for automated structure gauging processing. The competition process is managed by Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation.

The competition also supports the objectives of Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6) funding strategy for research and development.

Gauging is the process through which Network Rail ensures adequate clearance between passing trains and lineside objects and features. The objective of this competition is to:

  • demonstrate innovations to Network Rail that will enhance the interpretation of point-cloud data
  • provide accurate information on the location and identity of trackside features to enable accurate gauging clearance processing

The 2 phases will have the following objectives.

Phase 1:

  • training the application
  • categorising 10 types of structure

Phase 2:

  • demonstrating the application
  • analysis and recording of structures

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

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total eligible costs for phase 1 must be up to £90,000 plus VAT. For phase 2, the total eligible costs will be up to £360,000 plus VAT.

Who can apply

Your project

For phase 1, your project’s total eligible costs must be up to £90,000 plus VAT. Phase 1 projects must plan to start by May 2020 and end by July 2020. We expect to fund up to 8 phase 1 projects.

Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2. We will monitor changes between your phase 1 and phase 2 submissions. We will not accept unjustified major changes in the project team or costs at phase 2.

For phase 2, your project’s total eligible costs must be up to £360,000, plus VAT. We expect to fund up to 3 phase 2 projects. Phase 2 projects must plan to start by September 2020 and last up to 12 months.

Lead organisation

Your organisation must:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • be based in the UK, EU, or EEA

Your organisation can work alone or, if you do not have all the required expertise, you can work with others as subcontractors. Successful applicants will be expected to support quarterly progress meetings held in the UK.

Project teams must include organisations with expertise in infrastructure inspection, surveying and measurement.

We expect your demonstration to focus on data from an operational railway environment. If your organisation is new to the rail sector, we would encourage you to partner with organisations with appropriate rail experience. However, you will need to develop your own relationships with organisations with appropriate expertise.

To get help building your team, you may want to:


We have allocated up to £720,000 plus VAT to fund innovation projects in phase 1. Successful projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by Network Rail and the competition process is managed by Innovate UK as part of UK Research and Innovation.

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

For this competition, Innovate UK and Network Rail will use a portfolio approach to maximise the benefit of the investment of public funding. The portfolio approach will be based on project costs, including demonstrating value for money.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to develop a solution for automating railway structure gauging processing and to demonstrate this using data recorded from the live railway.

Phase 1

You must achieve these objectives:

1. Training the application to identify and categorise 10 types of structure and vegetation with accuracy equivalent to a human. A supporting technical specification will be made available to organisations registering for this competition, containing additional information on the structures.

2. Record accurately with cant, curvature and clearance in 5 metre slices of point cloud to meet the requirements of the standard structure gauging file template.

Phase 2

You must analyse successive runs on the same line taken months apart. You must record the rate and direction of movement of track relative to each structure, as well as recording any structures added or removed.

The success of the demonstrations will be based on their accuracy compared to current human-centric methods. Successful demonstrations must achieve comparable or better results than current processing methods, with the potential for cost saving and faster processing times.

The performance of the system will be compared to conventional manual inspections as part of the validation. You must share the technical specification with Network Rail as part of the deliverable report.

Your system must identify these structures:

  • crossing
  • lineside furniture (miscellaneous minor structures)
  • overbridge
  • platform
  • signal and telecommunications structures
  • signal
  • underbridge
  • tunnel
  • viaduct
  • wall

Support from Innovate UK and Network Rail

Innovate UK will be responsible for funding your activity and monitoring your project. Network Rail will be available to provide guidance and support. You must invite Network Rail to project meetings. A data sharing agreement is in place between Innovate UK and Network Rail. Details of your application and progress reports will be shared between the 2 organisations.

Specific themes

Network Rail will give you point cloud data in .laz format or equivalent. For phase 1, you will be given a training set with identified structures, and a validation and test set. Each will cover approximately 10 miles of track and contain up to 1,000 structures.

You will not need to collect point cloud data as this will be provided by Network Rail.

If you are invited to phase 2 you will be given consecutive data sets of the same runs to enable identification of changes in the structures.

The competition aims to improve the accuracy and efficiency of gauging processing. Your project must accurately demonstrate:

  • identification of existing structures by comparison with the existing National Gauging Database, which we will share if we award you funding
  • correct identification of vegetation and masonry
  • repeatability and reproducibility
  • reading of structure distance and track cant and curvature
  • identification of changes such as removed structures and added structures
  • conversion of point cloud slices into structural gauging files

We will include additional information on the technical objectives of the project in the supporting technical document pack. This is available to you, along with information on relevant Network Rail standards and protocols, in the secure download site once you start your application.

Projects we will not fund

We do not fund projects that:

  • cannot be successfully exploited by the rail industry to deliver benefits to rail or light-rail organisations and their customers
  • do not create a significant change in the level of innovation available in the rail industry
  • are not high maturity
  • have high technical risk
  • are collaborations that cannot deliver an effective demonstration in a railway environment
  • do not have a demonstration phase, offering the customer a chance to use and give feedback on the innovation
  • include anything that presents a risk to the operational railway or safety of workers

2 December 2019
Competition opens
5 December 2019
London briefing event
22 January 2020 12:00pm
Registration closes
29 January 2020 12:00pm
Competition closes
9 March 2020
Interviews week commencing
20 March 2020
Applicants notified
17 April 2020
Contracts awarded

Before you start

Before you start, you must read the general guidance for applicants.

To apply:

  • register online using the green button
  • get your unique application number and form by entering the username and password we email to you
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • consider attending the briefing event listed in ‘Dates’
  • complete and upload your online application to our secure server using Microsoft Word

You may also want to:

  • 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 Network Rail, in keeping with our privacy notice. Network Rail will also see your project’s progress reports and will expect to be invited to the quarterly progress meetings.

A selected panel of experts, including Network Rail representatives, will assess the quality of your application.

Applicants who are successful will be invited to interviews in Swindon in January 2020. More details are provided in the guidance for applicants.

Background and further information

The objectives of the project are to replace traditional structure gauging processing with automated methods. These will:

  • identify and label existing structures correctly by comparison with the current National Gauging Database
  • identify changes to lines such as new structures or removed structures
  • correctly categorise changes by structure type

This will reduce a major bottleneck in structure gauging processing, allowing the time between processing each run on a line to be reduced from years to months. This will support better understanding of the rate of movement of the track in relation to the structures over time. It will also enable more accurate prediction of the development of foul clearances, and therefore assist proactive planning of maintenance and renewals to mitigate gauging issues.

This should support more accurate understanding of the clearances between structure and track, giving greater confidence in the data, and facilitating the introduction of new rolling stock. It will also reduce time spent on track carrying out manual resurveying, with the associated reduction in risk to staff. This would represent a step change in processing efficiency by reducing time spent on staff training and retention to process structures, and an improvement in the consistency of processing.

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.

SBRI is pre-commercial procurement (PCP) and challenges industry to develop innovative solutions for public sector needs and enables companies to create competitive advantage on the market. PCP enables public procurers to compare alternative potential offerings and filter out the best possible solutions that the market can deliver to address the public need. Where a solution to a challenge demonstrates significant promise, procurement of this innovation may follow, through an entirely separate open procurement process. For more information on SBRI see here

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

Extra help

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 between 9am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.

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