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Transport innovators win share of £5m prize in DfT-backed competition

Deniz Huseyin
30 November 2022

Self-charging trains was among the innovations to win DfT funding in the First of a Kind 2022 competition. This year’s competition focused on concepts designed to transform rail travel for passengers while decarbonising the network.

The competition is delivered by Innovate UK, on behalf of the DfT through the Small Business Research Initiative. This year saw 24 innovators receive a share of more than £5m, with grants of up to £400,000 each. 

Winners include:

  • Echion Technologies is developing batteries that will charge from overhead wires and use that charge to ‘leapfrog’ across unelectrified section of track and create self-charging trains.
  • Varamis which, in partnership with DHL and Fedex, is seeking to repurpose former passenger carriages and connect with the rise in online shopping to create high-speed, non-letter delivery services.
  • Thales Ground Transportation Systems have developed sensors to detect people approaching tracks, pin down their location, and give an early warning to staff, to reduce disruption and act as suicide intervention or even stop protestors getting on the tracks.

The First of a Kind competition has already helped launch over 100 projects that are having a transformative effect across the entire industry, said the DfT. Previous winners have included Riding Sunbeams, which power railways with sunlight, and 4Silence’s sound bending walls which cancel out noise pollution from the railway.

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.”

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