Male rail passenger at a station using a smartphone

Department for Transport awards £9m to ‘pandemic proof’ rail travel

New technological innovations which can help deliver ‘pandemic proof’ rail travel have been awarded a share of £9m funding, as part of the latest round of the First of a Kind (FOAK) competition held by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Ran in partnership with Innovate UK, the FOAK competition saw 30 projects earn a share of the £9m investment through technology designed to improve rail journeys, increase passenger confidence and make a greener rail network.

Winning innovations included a virtual reality immersive journey planning app for trains and stations, which could soon make journeys easier by reducing passenger anxiety and helping passengers better understand their journey ahead of travelling.

Elsewhere, other winning projects included:

  • a system to monitor people flow, congestion points and behaviour at stations, so operators can remove bottlenecks and deploy countermeasures, helping people avoid crowds and restoring passenger confidence in the rail system post COVID-19
  • a scheme that provides an interchangeable interior train carriage for quick, deep cleaning and allows operators to rejig a trains seating layout at short notice – reacting to demand, keeping passengers safe and freeing up space
  • a project that uses electromagnetism to deliver safe and predictable braking in harsh conditions, while improving acceleration
  • a scheme that aims to deliver a train running on hydrogen and a hydrogen gas blend promising low emissions and an even greener railway

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “I am delighted to announce the winners of the 2021 First of a Kind competition. These winners will hopefully play a role in putting passengers at the centre of our railways as we build back better from COVID-19.

“The competition always throws up surprises and the ideas shown today could transform how we travel in future.”

In particular, this latest round of the competition focused on developing pioneering technology and exceptional ideas that could improve journeys for travellers, as the rail industry looked to rebuild following Covid-19 and become more environmentally sustainable.

These are key ambitions identified in the recently-released Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.

Simon Edmonds, Deputy Executive Chair and Chief Business Officer, Innovate UK, added: “As we move ever closer to getting past the pandemic, passengers are returning to the railway. To give them ever greater confidence that rail is safe and sustainable, we called upon UK innovators to come up with fresh ideas.

“Yet again the response has been fantastic. Not only will passengers benefit from these great innovations, but business prospects are bright in this sector too.”

Full details of the winning projects can be found below:

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