uk rail train

£7.6m fund to decarbonise and improve efficiency of UK’s railways announced

Image credit: Dreamstime

New technologies designed to improve the efficiency and reliability of Britain’s railways, as well as lower the network’s carbon emissions, are to be funded by a £7.6m package announced by the government today.

The Department for Transport is welcoming bids from organisations pitching for projects that will create a greener, more cost-effective and passenger-focused railway.

Applicants can submit their ideas from today until 8 June 2022, with bids welcome from organisations of all sizes.

Last year saw 33 firms receive grants of up to £400,000 each. The fund has helped to trial and launch over 100 projects in the past which were focused on greener railways, improving passenger experience and accessibility, and helping the railway to be more cost-effective.

Past projects include the first trials of hydrogen-powered trains in the UK with Birmingham University’s HydroFLEX project, an app which connects rail travellers to the world outside their window with geolocated audio stories along the route, and software to support hearing impaired passengers in receiving rail announcements.

Rail minister Wendy Morton said: “I am incredibly excited to launch the sixth round of our First of a Kind competition. In partnership with Innovate UK, we have already invested £35.4m into over 100 groundbreaking projects.

“As part of our Plan for Rail, it’s key we continue breathing life into new ideas and supporting innovation and design to deliver greener rail journeys and transform rail travel for all passengers.”

A survey of rail experts in December found that the majority believed the UK’s railways were becoming more innovative despite the negative impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on forward-looking projects.

In January, a team of researchers from Loughborough University developed a system to tackle the UK’s infamous problems with leaves on the line leading to delays.

Uwe Jasnoch, a director at Hexagon Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial, said some of the funds should be awarded to firms making use of AI and lidar technologies to improve railway safety and efficiency.

“Rail operators routinely face a wide array of hazards, from security incidents and asset failures to weather-related events, including landslides, floods, lightning strikes, and even fallen leaves,” he said.

“Meanwhile, passenger and freight traffic are expected to double by 2050, making safety and security assurances for rail organisations more important than ever. Fortunately, new technologies are emerging that can bolster the safety of trains, tracks, and the entire operational environment.

“By leveraging AI and lidar, operators can improve the speed and precision of railway infrastructure mapping.

“Additionally, smart monitoring can be used to create a digital twin of the rail network using a 3D model of the infrastructure and the inputted operational data. Digital twins are exact replicas of the entire network with all features included from the tracks, bridges, and stops right down to details such as benches, rubbish bins, and trees.

“The model is linked up with integrated data so, using AI-powered automation, it can provide insight into the exact location of an immediate issue as well as give analysis of predicated and potential future events.”

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