Bringing innovation funding together for a brighter future

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

David Clarke, director of FutureRailway, says the programme is building on the success of the Enabling Innovation Team (EIT) thanks to a new partnership with Network Rail.

In 2012, the EIT (Enabling Innovation Team) was established to plug the ‘innovation gap’ facing the country’s railway industry – receiving £30m worth of pilot funding from the Department for Transport to stimulate activity in this area.

During the two years that followed, the EIT ran a whole series of competitions and activities – co-funded with industry – and doubling the original £30m investment to £60m.

Now the organisation, which has been deemed a success and has been given further funding for the next five years, has become FutureRailway after partnering with Network Rail.

David Clarke, director of FutureRailway, told RTM: “We are working together with Network Rail and we are trying to bring together under one roof – and under one banner – all of the innovation funds in the rail industry. That will be much more effective than having one fund here and another there.

“Future Railway has absorbed what was the EIT, and it is now a collaboration between ourselves – who are part of RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board Ltd) – and Network Rail.”

Jane Simpson, technical services director at Network Rail, told RTM that its collaboration with RSSB on the FutureRailway programme is central to its work to step up the application of technology through innovation to benefit the whole railway system.

She added: “The RSSB and Network Rail together, as FutureRailway, are working closely with funders such as the Department for Transport, Technology Strategy Board and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to optimise the use of funding – and FutureRailway is working with stakeholders from across the rail industry to ensure innovation is delivered against a single plan under the Rail Technical Strategy (RTS).”

Delivering the Rail Technical Strategy

The main aim of the FutureRailway programme is to accelerate research, development and innovation to help ensure the industry can deliver the RTS.

Clarke added that the new programme is a really positive move. “Between ourselves and Network Rail, we’ve got £125m worth of funding. If we continue working with the supply chain and others to double that, then that is £250m worth of innovation activity for the rail industry, which is a significant amount.”

More funding could come from European sources, Clarke suggested – the RTS is clearly taken seriously there because Europe’s own version, published in February, bears a “spooky resemblance” to the UK RTS.

With 10 officials from both the RSSB and Network Rail overseeing the running of FutureRailway, the programme is designed to help innovators navigate the complex rail industry landscape and identify the most appropriate route to market.

RTM was told that the organisation will be particularly concentrating on trying to take the current crop of competitions it has already run to the next stage and get them into production.

“Some of the things we’ve recently been doing like aesthetic overhead lines, like Radical Train, and some of the design competitions have been very innovative,” said Clarke. “But we’ve got to get those beyond the competition and into physical prototypes and that’s a big focus at the moment.”

RTM has included articles on all of those competitions in recent editions, and models of the shortlisted designs from the aesthetic OLE competition with RIBA (pictured) were showcased at Rail Live.

IPEMU Project

In particular, the next big challenge is developing the independently-powered electrical multiple unit (IPEMU), which in simple terms is an EMU (electric multiple unit) with a battery under it.

It is hoped that the IPEMU – the concept for which was showcased at Rail Live 2014 (more on page 111) could be used to bridge ‘gaps’ in otherwise electrified railways, in a much more energy and cost-efficient way than using a back-up diesel engine.

This would lower the cost of electrification projects as a whole, because the sections where overhead line equipment is the most complicated and expensive to install without major civils works, such as in tunnels and under bridges, can be left as they are, with the battery doing the work through those sections.

It could also be a primary traction method on branch lines where full electrification remains economically unviable.

After months of lab testing, the IPEMU project team, which consists of Network Rail, Bombardier, Greater Anglia and FutureRailway, has paved the way for work to start on adapting the Class 379 to run on battery power on a section of the Anglia route, with its pantograph down (but ready to rise in the event of a problem).

Talking to RTM in mid-June, Clarke said: “Currently the IPEMU is at Bombardier where a train is being converted. Later this year we will demonstrate the unit.

“It is a classic example: the research suggests it will work, the technology exists in other industries, but nobody in the rail industry is going to take the risk of going out and buying one until they have actually seen one in action.

“So we are going to allow them to see one and ride on one, so we can build the confidence and let them know it works.”

In his speech at Rail Live, Clarke called this problem the “valley of death”. He said: “The classic scenario is one where no self-respecting director wants any novelty on his project, and all the project directors think the same – so guess what? No novelty.

“The worst place to do any sort of dramatic innovation is on a live project,” he said, so FutureRailway is all about testing and proving an innovation in a realistic way, ready for it to be used in a live environment once it is no longer seen as novel or risky.

By taking this approach, FutureRailway is also fulfilling another of its main aims: de-risking business solutions and technologies.

“We want to bring together people who don’t usually work together and bring forward those cross system challenges, we want to build skills and capabilities so that innovation becomes part of the day job for everybody, we also want to work with the government and try to remove the barriers to innovation,” said Clarke. “The reason we want to do all of this is because we want to build a better railway and a better supply chain for the UK economy – that is the fundamental objective.”

FutureRailway and partners also subsidise testing on sites like Long Marston to ensure innovative ideas can be tested properly. 

Looking ahead

Going forward, the FutureRailway programme team is going to look at each of the chapters of the RTS, pick out the biggest challenges and will design its competitions to move the RTS forward.

Clarke added: “If you want to fully know what FutureRailway will be doing over the next five years look at the RTS because, for the most part, it is in there.”

Jane Simpson added: “FutureRailway is a vehicle for the whole of the rail industry to come together to create a cheaper, greater capacity, lower carbon railway offering a better customer experience. It falls under the governance of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) through the RDG Technology and Operations sub-group and with the Technical Strategy Leadership Group (TSLG) providing oversight. Network Rail is heavily engaged in both supporting and steering the activities of FutureRailway.”

Clarke is also keen that the industry works together on a ‘rail industrial strategy’ to match the automotive industry’s version, which used £500m from business, match-funded by £500m from the government, to boost the overall fortunes of the industry.

Clarke said he’d like to see that in place by this time next year, and said the Rail Supply Group, chaired by Alstom’s Terence Watson with input from BIS as well as the DfT, was a great start.

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