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15.01.19

Network Rail & Innovate UK: Ready for the future

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 2019

As part of its Open for Business programme, Network Rail recently teamed up with Innovate UK to give businesses a chance to win a share of £300,000 for projects that can help automate rail planning. Kelvin Davies, innovation lead for rail at the government agency, talks about the competition in a Q&A with RTM.

What motivated that partnership between your organisation and Network Rail?

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by the UK Government. The relationship with Network Rail (an arm’s-length central government body) sees a great collaboration between these two organisations.

What Innovate UK brings to the table in particular is the opportunity to bring in innovations from both within and outside the traditional rail supply chain.

What Network Rail brings is a wealth of information on the technology and innovation required to deliver the railway system for the 21st century.

What does partnering with you say about Network Rail’s desire to open its doors to businesses?

As the UK’s innovation agency, it makes perfect sense for Innovate UK to collaborate with Network Rail to support the delivery of innovation into the rail industry. Innovate UK’s long history of driving growth by working with companies to support and de-risk innovation means that we are ideally placed to help to connect businesses to the partners, customers, and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and to support business growth.

What type of businesses are you hoping to see apply for a share of the competition funding?

The competition is open to both large and small corporations. We are hoping to see applications from both the rail sector and from organisations outside the industry.

Through the design of the competition, we are also encouraging organisations to work collaboratively.

We will only know the outcome once the projects have commenced, but we might for instance see an organisation from the broader construction sector working with an organisation with more rail expertise.

Is Innovate UK keen to see greater cross-pollination across different sectors as part of this competition?

Cross-pollination across sectors is very much an area of interest for Innovate UK. We have a very broad outreach and broadcasts opportunities across industry in the UK.

In addition, the design of the competition specifically encourages collaboration – for larger projects, collaboration is necessary to be eligible for the competition.

Through this, non-rail and rail organisations have the opportunity to work together and to support each other in delivering innovation to the benefit of Network Rail.

How can SMEs or new market entrants stand out amidst the bigger industry players?

Collaborative working between large and small organisations is very much encouraged by Innovate UK and supported through the competition process. This will help to bring new players into the market, and for these organisations to collaborate with the more established rail suppliers.

What kind of solutions will you be looking out for, and how innovative do you want them to be?

The scope of Innovate UK competitions is deliberately broad and challenge-led rather than solution-led. This offers the maximum opportunity for innovative responses. Network Rail and Innovate UK will be looking for solutions that combine innovation with practicality, and the potential to address real infrastructure design challenges.

All applications are scored against 10 metrics – ‘Approach and Innovation’ is one of the key assessment criteria and is scored independently.

When will you be announcing the winning bids, and when can the sector expect to see these solutions introduced?

Innovate UK will announce the winning bids in early February 2019. We anticipate having the projects commence within one to two months of this date.

The objective of the competition is to demonstrate automated design tools in a railway context. With projects running for between six and 12 months, there will be option for further commercial relationships after this time, with the potential to see the tools developed as part of this programme applied to real design challenges.

Will the relationship between Network Rail and Innovate UK continue beyond this competition?

Network Rail and Innovate UK bring different skills to bear on the challenge of driving innovation into the railways.

A new, stronger relationship has been forged to deliver this competition and both organisations are looking at opportunities to continue this relationship into the future.

Companies from across UK industry should continue to monitor Innovate UK competitions for a range of funding opportunities for game-changing innovations.

 

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