Some nice train tracks, yesterday

Self-charging trains backed by Department for Transport

Image credit: PA Mediapoint

Self-charging trains could make their way onto Britain’s railways after the Department for Transport (DfT) offered government funding for innovative rail projects.

The DfT’s ‘First of a Kind 2022’ competition saw 24 projects receive a share of more than £5m, with grants of up to £400,000 each.

This year’s competition was focused on new concepts that will transform rail travel for passengers and help to decarbonise the network.

Echion Technologies submitted a successful project for developing batteries that will charge from overhead wires and use that charge to ‘leapfrog’ across unelectrified sections of track.

In 2020, diesel-powered UK trains began to be retrofitted with batteries to allow them to run on low-carbon electricity even on unelectrified rail lines.

Varamis – another project receiving funding – is working closely with DHL and Fedex to repurpose former passenger carriages to carry parcels across the UK. The firm said it wanted to capitalise on the online shopping boom by creating high-speed, non-letter delivery services.

Thales Ground Transportation Systems, which also received DfT backing, has developed new sensors which will detect people approaching tracks, pinpoint their location and give an early warning to railway staff. The technology is designed to reduce disruption and could act as suicide intervention or stop protestors getting on the tracks.

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”.

Mike Biddle, executive director for net zero at Innovate UK, said: “The innovations funded through this competition will help to deliver a greener, lower-emissions railway carrying increasingly higher proportions of the UK’s freight.

“Companies from all over the UK have demonstrated the quality of their innovations in previous rounds of this scheme. Now we will support even more innovations to help deliver a greener railway that benefits passengers, employees and customers for rail freight.”

Other winning projects include an automatic system that detects and stops track flooding; cutting edge electric drivetrains that replace polluting Diesel engines, and new tech to instantly relay track information to improve rail safety.

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