Watertrak train mounted water addition

First of a Kind grant winner could take ‘dirty diesel’ off track

The top UK innovators and inventors within the rail sector have been awarded requisite prize money to bring their projects to life, through the 2022 instalment of the First of a Kind competition. This years FOAK, coming in partnership Innovate UK, was dedicated to uncovering new concepts that will help to decarbonise the network and transform passenger travel.

FOAK 2022 welcomed a plethora of enhancement projects that prognosticated future rail excellence, seeing 24 innovators become the recipients of £5m worth of funding grants, with up to £400,00 being allocated to each.

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper said:

“The UK has a long history of leading the way in railway innovation and the First of a Kind competition is getting the great brains of today to create the trains of tomorrow.

“Through millions of pounds worth of Government funding, we are breathing life into ideas that will revolutionise our railways and make them greener than ever before.

“This is just the beginning and, as Transport Secretary, I am determined to support British innovation and create a cutting edge, green rail industry that delivers even more benefits for passengers and freight.”

 A grant-receiving project came from Echion Technologies, who are developing batteries that will charge from overhead wires and use that charge to 'leapfrog’ across unelectrified section of track and, effectively, create self-charging trains – truly, ‘the first of a kind’.

Speaking on these rechargeable batteries, Rail Minister Huw Merriman expressed the value these can bring to his constituency of Bexhill and Battle in East Sussex, where there is a “diesel train that runs all the way through”, despite having an electrified line. Huw Said:

“The reason we've got diesels is because there's a stretch of track, which has not been electrified. So, you know, rather than just having expensive overheads on the entire line, which means it's so expensive, we never get sign off. One of these projects is developing a battery that actually allows you to effectively charge as you go on the electrified part, and then it runs over the bit that isn't, that could ultimately allow us to take off dirty diesel trains.

“And ultimately, there's only two lines on the entire southern network that have this issue, so you can end up decarbonising southern. That would really change the game and actually help us to reach our 2040 decarbonisation targets to take or diesels of rail.”

The two lines Huw spoke about are the Masterlink, running from Hastings all the way down to Ashford, and the Uckfield line, which consists of major tunnelling along the route, making the installation of overhead equipment particularly difficult. The optimisation of renewable battery energy for trains would bridge the gap in these areas, to which “all of a sudden, you’ve electrified.”

Other winners in this year’s competition include paragons of ingenuity regarding the optimisation of the delivery sectors modal shift to rail freight transportation.

 A project labelled ‘"Freight Skate" a self-powered freight bogie and platform’ has received the maximum funding allowance, seeing a collaboration between LB Foster, GB Freight and Eversholt Rail Group (ERG), working to design and manufacture a self-powered semi-autonomous bogie which will improve operating flexibility. The successful delivery of this project will deliver time saving improvements, reducing noise pollution, and improve air quality both within the terminal and in the wider community.

Freight related projects have seen a large portion of allocated funding at this year’s competition. Huw explains this approach, saying:

“One of the things I'd like to highlight is that you might see that for some of the projects, say for example, freight, there's more of an amount going in than some of the decarbonisation projects. That's because the way we're aiming this is to say, let's continue to fund some of these decarbonisation projects, where tech could change the game. And then let's see, actually, if they can then go through to the next stage, where they will then be open to further tranche of funding.

“So, I focus more on, it's not just these as winners, but also they could be further winners, because they're, they're open to get any more funding as well should let us go well.”

Other winning projects include:

  • Automatic systems that detect and stop track floodingWatertrak train mounted water addition
  • Cutting edge electric drivetrains that replace polluting diesel engines
  • New tech to instantly relay track information to improve and modernise rail safetySensor installation

Winners with a track record of success will have the opportunity to progress for further funding next year as projects move from concepts to realisation.

Throughout its lifetime, this competition has aided in the launch of over 100 projects that are having a transformative effect across the entire industry. Notable previous winners include the likes of Riding Sunbeams, which power railways with sunlight, and 4Silence’s sound bending walls which cancel out noise pollution from the railway.

FOAK prioritises partnership and excellence through collaborative approaches to existing rail sector dilemmas, with this year’s edition presenting forward thinking ideas on decarbonisation and progressive technology that can reduce asset failures. These progressive narratives are “what we need, not just to make the railway more nimble, but also to tackle the cost and financial environment that we obviously are in right now.”

For more information regarding winners and project details, please click here

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