Funding competition Accelerating innovation in rail 5

Businesses can apply for a share of £7.9 million for innovations to minimise disruption to train services and to develop initiatives for intelligent trains.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, on behalf of the Department for Transport, will invest up to £7.9 million to support innovation and growth in national and international rail markets. This is a joint initiative with the rail industry, under the direction of its Technical Leadership Group, the team responsible for creating a vision for the future of the railways.

The aim of this competition is to create innovations that address the main goals identified in the industry’s ‘Rail Technical Strategy Capability Delivery Plan’ 2017. These are:

  • ‘minimal disruption to train services’
  • ‘intelligent trains’

Projects should last between 6 months and 2 years. If your proposed project falls outside of the project funding range or duration, please contact Innovate UK before you apply.

There will be up to £1.1 million in grant funding for projects that last up to 12 months, and £6.8 million for projects of up to 24 months. Projects can focus on industrial research, experimental development or both.

Proposals must:

  • be collaborative (involving at least 2 organisations)
  • be led by a business
  • involve at least one SME

Funding type


Project size

We expect projects to range in size from total costs of £150,000 to £1.5 million.

Find out if you are eligible to apply

To be eligible for funding you must:

  • be a UK based business or research and technology organisation
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • work in collaboration with others, including at least one SME
  • propose a project that meets our definition of ‘industrial research’ or ‘experimental development’

To lead a project you must be a UK based business and can be a business of any size.

At least 2 of the organisations involved must be claiming funding from Innovate UK.

A business can be involved in up to 3 applications but only lead one application. If you wish to be involved in more than 3 applications, you must contact Innovate UK before you apply.

If an application you are leading is unsuccessful, you can use the feedback received to apply once more using the same proposal (in other words, you can make a maximum of 2 applications in total for any proposal). This can be into another round of this competition or another competition.

If you are a research organisation, you may participate to a maximum of 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

Applications are welcome both from within and outside the rail sector, however we encourage your consortium to work in partnership with organisations that have rail-sector expertise. We will hold consortium-building events designed to introduce non-rail organisations to stakeholders and potential partner organisations from the rail sector.

Projects that we won’t fund

We will not fund applications that:

  • do not commit to a significant change in innovation
  • have low technological maturity. We are eager to fund innovations that can be applied quickly and offer real benefits to travellers
  • cannot be exploited by the rail industry
  • do not have the potential to deliver benefits to rail or light-rail industries

Smartphone apps are in scope for this competition, but we will fund only a limited number of applications focusing on this technology.

Funding and project details

We have allocated up to £7.9 million to fund collaborative projects.

We expect to fund projects delivering both industrial research and experimental development. We expect to provide funding of:

  • up to £3.95 million for projects that support the minimisation of disruption to train services
  • up to £3.95 million for projects to develop intelligent trains

Within these bands around £1.1 million will be allocated for projects that last up to 12 months, and £6.8 million for projects up to 2 years.

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Project types

Your project can focus on industrial research or experimental development.

For industrial research, you could get:

  • up to 70% of your eligible project costs if you are a small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get:

  • up to 45% of your eligible project costs if you are a small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business
International partners are welcome to participate in a consortium, but are not eligible for Innovate UK grant funding.

Competition scope

The aim of this competition is to stimulate innovation in the rail industry, using technology to create a better railway. We will fund projects that focus on 2 themes of the industry’s ‘Rail Technical Strategy Capability Delivery Plan’ 2017, which are:

  • ‘minimal disruption to train services’
  • ‘intelligent trains’

These are described in detail in the ‘Specific competition themes’ section.

We will fund a portfolio of projects, including industrial research and experimental development. Project proposals must show significant innovation in one of these areas. They must also improve the business growth and productivity of at least one UK SME involved in the project, or offer new export opportunities.

Your proposal must show innovation and the potential for future real-world applications and potential for exploitation. The competition assessors’ scoring will be weighted to focus on these goals. Your application should provide evidence that there is a market need for the solution you propose. You must demonstrate that you have engaged with potential customers in the rail industry.

We encourage you to discuss regulations and policy with potential customer organisations before you complete your submission.

Your application must address specific challenges faced by organisations in the rail and light-rail industries. These include direct suppliers to the industry and ‘challenge owners’ such as:

  • Network Rail
  • London Underground
  • HS1
  • HS2
  • Crossrail
  • train operating companies
  • rolling-stock operators
  • other rail and light-rail projects currently in the planning phase

Your proposal must show an understanding of human behaviour, so we can be confident that users (rail industry employees or passengers) will make use of the innovation. Your project must include proofs of concept and demonstrate how the technology can be applied across the network.

Specific competition themes

There are 2 specific themes for this competition.

1. Minimal disruption to train services

Railway rolling stock and infrastructure need to meet the future needs of passenger and freight customers. The railway must therefore make these more reliable, more readily available and easier to maintain.

Innovations that fit into this theme could include:

  • establishing data-sharing principles and an information architecture that supports whole-system asset management
  • monitoring the health of assets in real time using smart, built-in sensors, or novel technology. This could include applications for vehicles and electrical systems. It could also address elements of infrastructure, such as drainage and vegetation, or structures such as tunnels, bridges or hidden structural elements
  • exploiting technology from other industries to commit to the objectives of making railway assets more reliable, more readily available and easier to maintain
  • providing better ways to monitor and visualise the status and location of infrastructure and rolling stock
  • deterring customers or the public from disrupting train services
  • developing technology that automatically delivers preventive maintenance plans and completes maintenance before a failure occurs (known as a ‘predict and prevent’ strategy)
  • automatically detecting degradation and failure (including in earthworks and line-side structures)
  • deploying modular, line-replaceable units to simplify maintenance and repair
  • making greater use of automated and robotic technology to maintain elements, including addressing track defects, maintaining switches and crossings, and reducing hazards to staff
  • supporting the timely and efficient replacement of components
  • optimising the performance of systems during adverse and extreme weather conditions

Other innovations may be considered as long as they show significant potential for innovation and real-world application.

Solutions must be economical, and can be designed to help make better use of existing assets (including the telecommunications network). It may be practical to test innovations on lightly used lines, then transfer them to more heavily congested network areas.

2. Intelligent Trains

Advances in computational power, communications, automation and sensing give the railway the potential to develop and deploy intelligent rolling stock. Intelligent trains are capable of operating in a fully autonomous mode under remote supervision. Such trains can reduce the railway’s reliance on complex and expensive infrastructure and control systems, and will improve capacity, punctuality and reliability. Intelligent trains may be able to monitor themselves and their environment, making the network more reliable and cost effective.

Innovations that fit into this theme could include:

  • tools that allow train and track to communicate, so they can operate as a single, integrated system
  • applying self-regulation and autonomous technology to a rail environment for tasks other than train control. This could include technology that advises and assists drivers, such as making sure only the doors at the platform open, or keeping the driver aware of the train’s location. This would reduce the need for drivers to possess specific ‘route knowledge’ and provide a more consistent train service
  • meeting the needs of the customer more effectively, such as delivering shorter journey times and a better on-board experience
  • developing mechatronics (combining mechanical, electronic and software systems) to deliver intelligent rail vehicles
  • providing on-board equipment that intelligently inspects the environment. For instance, tools that detect and inspect line-side features, such as fences and boundaries, vegetation, obstructions or trespassers to help trains to run safely and efficiently
  • creating intelligent train-borne monitoring tools for electrical power systems. This could include overhead line equipment, pantographs and associated systems, and would help make power supplies more resilient and reduce incidences of damage to overhead wires
  • providing systems that respond intelligently to speed restrictions, and making it possible to be more flexible in defining temporary speed restrictions
  • adopting technologies from other industries to create more intelligent trains
  • using artificial intelligence to reduce the chances and consequences of operator error

Other innovations may be considered as long as they show significant potential for innovation and real-world application.

18 September 2017
Competition opens
19 September 2017
Applicant briefing in London
19 September 2017
Watch the webcast of the applicant briefing
21 September 2017
Applicant briefing in Cardiff
26 September 2017
Applicant briefing in Derby
28 September 2017
Applicant briefing in Glasgow
3 October 2017
Applicant briefing in Manchester
15 November 2017 12:00pm
Competition closes
12 January 2018 8:42am
Applicants notified

Before you start

To start an application, you must create an account as the lead applicant, or sign in as a representative of your organisation. Once you have an account you can track the progress of your application.

As a lead applicant:

  • you are responsible for collecting the information for your funding application
  • you can invite other organisations who will participate in the project as collaborators if your application is successful
  • you can invite colleagues to contribute to the application
  • your organisation will lead the project if your application is successful

Partner organisations can be other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities.

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

Research organisations

Research organisations may participate in applications as collaborators.

There are specific rules for research partners which limit the amount of involvement a research organisation may have in your project. The participation rule will be set out in the eligibility criteria for the competition.

You will not be able to submit your application if your research participation is over the stated percentage for the competition.

What we ask you

The application is split into 3 sections.

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

1. Project details

In this section you will provide the details of your project. This section is not scored, but our assessors will use it to decide whether the project fits with the scope of the competition. If it doesn’t fit the scope then it will be immediately rejected. Within project details you will need to complete:

Application details

The title of your project, the start date and project length. This section will also list you as the lead organisation and the partner organisations you have named as collaborators. The lead applicant must complete this section.

Project summary

Describe your project and what is innovative about it. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application so we need a summary of the innovation in your project.

Public description

Describe your project in a way that you are happy to see published. Please do not include any commercially sensitive information. If your project is successful and awarded funding, Innovate UK will publish this description.

Project scope

Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will not be eligible for funding.

2. Application questions

In this section, answers to these questions are scored by the assessors. Following assessment, you will receive feedback from the assessors for each question.

Innovation and exploitation are key objectives of this competition, so questions 2 and 5 will be weighted with twice as many points as the other questions.

Question 1: Need or challenge

What is the business need, citizen challenge, technological challenge or market opportunity behind your innovation?

  • describe the main motivation for the project; the business need, the citizen-centric challenge (for Urban Living proposals), technological challenge or market opportunity
  • describe the nearest current state-of-the-art (including those near-market or in development) and its limitations
  • describe any work you have already done to respond to this need. For example, is the project focused on developing an existing capability or building a new one?
  • identify the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural and/or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity for example, incoming regulations. Our Horizons tool can help.

Question 2: Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

  • explain how you propose to respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • explain how it will improve on the nearest current state-of-the-art identified
  • indicate where the focus of the innovation will be in the project (application of existing technologies in new areas, development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach) and the freedom you have to operate
  • explain how this project fits with your current product/service lines/offerings
  • explain how it will make you more competitive
  • describe the nature of the outputs you expect from the project for example, report, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design. How will these will take you closer to targeting the need, challenge or opportunity identified?

You may submit a single appendix as a PDF no more than 1MB in size to support your answer.

Question 3: Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

  • describe the roles, skills and relevant experience of all members of the project team in relation to the approach you will be taking
  • describe the resources, equipment and facilities required for the project and how you will access them
  • provide details of any vital external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • (if collaborative) describe the current relationships between the project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • highlight any gaps in the team that will need to be filled

You may submit a single appendix as a PDF no more than 1MB in support your answer.

Question 4: Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Specify the markets (domestic and/or international) you will be targeting in the project and any other potential markets.

For the target markets, describe:

  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by appropriate references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the market such as customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • the main supply/value chains and business models in operation and any barriers to entry
  • the current UK position in targeting this market

For highly innovative projects, where the market may be unexplored, explain:

  • what the route to market could or might be
  • what its size might be
  • how the project will seek to explore the market potential

For other markets, briefly describe the size and main features

Question 5: Outcomes and route to market

How do you propose to grow your business and increase your productivity into the long term as a result of the project?

  • describe your current position in the markets and supply/value chains outlined for example, if you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • describe your target customers and/or end-users, and the value proposition to them (why would they use/buy it?)
  • describe your route to market
  • tell us how you are going to profit from the innovation (increased revenues or cost reduction)
  • explain how the innovation will impact your productivity and growth in the short and long-term
  • describe how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project for example, through know-how, patenting, designs, changes to business model
  • outline your strategy for targeting the other markets identified during or after the project
  • for any research organisation activity in the project, outline your plans to disseminate project research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • if you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities, describe how you will do this

Question 6: Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

Identify, and where possible measure, the economic benefits from the project to those outside the project (customers, others in the supply chain, broader industry and the UK economy) such as productivity increases and import substitution.

Identify, and where possible measure, any expected social impacts, either positive or negative, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion/exclusion
  • jobs (safeguarded, created, changed, displaced)
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity
  • any expected impact on government priorities

Identify, and where possible measure, any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative.

Identify any expected regional impacts of the project.

Question 7: Project management

How will you manage the project effectively?

  • outline the main work packages of the project, indicating the relevant research category and lead partner assigned to each, and the total cost of each one
  • describe your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms that will be used to ensure a successful project outcome. Highlight your approach to managing the most innovative aspects of the project
  • outline the management reporting lines
  • outline your project plan in sufficient detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You may upload a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix in PDF format no more than 1MB in size.

Question 8: Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

  • identify the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks. Highlight the most significant ones, providing a risk register if appropriate
  • explain how these risks will be mitigated
  • list any project inputs on the critical route to completion such as resources, expertise or data sets
  • is the output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical or other similar issues? If so how will you manage this?

You may upload a risk register as an appendix in PDF format no more than 1MB in size.

Question 9: Additionality

Describe the impact that an injection of public funding would have on this project.

  • tell us if this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make such as faster to market, more partners, reduced risk
  • describe the likely impact of the project on the business of the partners involved
  • tell us why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding (what would happen if the application is unsuccessful)
  • explain how this project would change the nature of research and development activity the partners would undertake, and related spend

Question 10: Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

  • justify the total project cost and the grant being requested in terms of the project goals
  • explain how the partners will finance their contributions to the project
  • explain how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer. How does it compare to what you would spend your money on otherwise?
  • justify the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • justify any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project

3. Finances

The finances section asks each organisation to complete project costs, organisational details and funding details for each organisation in your project. Academics will need to complete and upload a Je-S form. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

This competition is closely aligned to the opportunities for innovation identified through the ‘Rail Technical Strategy Capability Delivery Plan’ 2017 (see Challenge Statements 2 and 8) and the Network Rail Challenges.

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

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

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