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New tech to tackle leaves on the line and de-ice platforms

Mark Moran
17 June 2020
Artist`s impression of illuminated heated low energy concrete platform
Artist`s impression of illuminated heated low energy concrete platform


Projects to develop automatic de-icing concrete on platforms and a rapid seat reservation-swapping service are being funded by the Government.

The Department for Transport, in partnership with Innovate UK, has awarded 25 projects a share of £9.4m in the 2020 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition, which encourages innovation in the rail industry.

Inventors have come forward with a range of projects, including low-energy concrete slabs that automatically heat up in freezing conditions to help prevent passengers from slipping on icy platforms and the Seatfrog Train Swap app, which will allow passengers to quickly and remotely update their seat reservation to another service.

Several winning projects will help reduce the railway’s environmental impact and support decarbonisation, including a zero emission machine for removing and replacing rails, and hydrogen-based steam turbines to provide zero-emission, low-noise rail freight.

Other schemes supported by the competition include next-generation lightweight composite poles to provide passengers with faster and more reliable 5G Wi-Fi, as well as the development of safer and more resilient glazing for train windows to help prevent glass windows being smashed and protect passengers.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “These pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway, making their journeys simpler and easier. From clever technology on platforms to prevent icy surfaces, new ‘seat-switching’ apps and improved 5G Wi-Fi connections, harnessing innovation will be crucial to modernising the network and making our railways greener and cleaner, as we build beyond coronavirus (COVID-19) and look to the future.”

Ian Campbell, Executive Chair of Innovate UK, said: “These high-quality projects illustrate the appetite of UK organisations to develop new and exciting innovations for rail transport that improve customers’ user experience, optimise railway efficiency, and are environmentally sustainable.”
Now in its fourth year, the competition was open to organisations of all sizes and sectors whose technologies could help to create a greener, more cost-effective and customer-friendly railway with greater capacity.

Previous winners include new technology from Porterbrook in partnership with emissions specialist Eminox, which reduces harmful emissions from diesel trains by over 90%. South Western Railway completed a six-month trial in March of the technology that saw an emissions reduction system fitted to the exhaust of a Class 159 train used by passengers between Waterloo and Exeter.

The trial delivered immediate reductions in pollution from nitrous oxides by over 80% and hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter by more than 90%, and is the first successful transfer of proven automotive technology to a rail environment.

OpenSpace Thameslink also received funding for its plans to provide station management with a set of next-generation tools to help with crowd management at London St Pancras International. The project, in conjunction with Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd, immediately found this helped with easing crowds to help maintain social distancing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The FOAK competition winners

The full list of winners:

Customer experience

Project Lead organisation Summary
Train Swap Seatfrog Ops Limited Allows passengers to quickly and remotely update their seat reservation to a new service.
Dynamic Capacity Management Esoterix Systems Ltd Introduces utility-style ticketing that adjusts to travel patterns and rewards particular choices, using a monthly subscription that will help customers to save money on a large upfront fee.
Next-generation composite poles for a 5G-enabled railway Hive Composites Ltd Installation of lightweight composite poles along railway lines, to improve Wi-Fi speed, consistency and connection on the rail network for all rail passengers.
Illumin-heated concrete platform coper slabs Sheffield Hallam University Illuminated and heated low-energy concrete slabs used on railway platforms that automatically switch on in freezing conditions to help prevent passengers from slipping on ice.
LAMINAR iProov Demonstrates how biometrics can dramatically enhance the passenger experience, reduce congestion, improve safety and enhance security.
Track to Train communications to Transport for Wales Ingram Networks Ltd Lab-based study into new very high-speed communications technology for railways demonstrating very cost-effective trackside to train communications infrastructure over the whole 8km length of the heritage railway in Leicestershire, at speeds of 10Gbps+.

Environmental sustainability

Project Lead organisation Summary
Prototype zero emissions Trac Rail Transposer (TRT-e) Unipart Rail Limited A zero-emissions machine that removes and replaces rails.
LoCe: Less oil, Cleaner exhaust Porterbrook Leasing Transferring novel retrofit technology onto one of Porterbrook’s Class 170 Turbostar vehicles to enable mid-life diesel engines to rapidly become more environmentally sustainable.
Zero-emission rail freight power Steamology Motion Ltd A hydrogen-based steam turbine system that delivers zero-emission power solutions for existing rail freight locomotives.
Daybreak Riding Sunbeams Ltd Focuses on decarbonisation of the railway industry. It has developed direct connection between renewable energy generation and overhead lines of the railway systems.
Resi-Glaze Far-UK Ltd Aims to develop an innovative and resilient glazing solution to ensure passenger safety on trains and potential CO2 emissions saving.
HydroFLEX Raft Production BCRRE A power pack design to enable a hydrogen train to work in service, minimising the loss of passenger saloon space.
A novel, low environmental impact, composite railway footbridge Associated Utility Supplies (AUS) Ltd A low environmental impact footbridge, which will be the first railway footbridge made entirely from fibre reinforced polymer. It will be significantly easier to install than the equivalent steel bridge, greatly reducing network disruption and local environmental damage.

Optimised and cost-effective maintenance

Project Lead organisation Summary
Integrated Optical Fibre Sensing (OptRail-PRO) to rcm2 limited Optical fibre sensors that monitor the condition of switches and crossings on railway tracks.
Train Axle Crack Monitoring TAMON - Perpetuum Ltd Helps to reduce returns to depot by using sensors and pattern-recognition technologies to monitor for cracks in train axles.
High-Speed Cryogenic Blasting for Rail Cleaning to Alleviate Low Adhesion The University of Sheffield High-speed cryogenic cleaning system for tracks to prevent low adhesion and slow running of trains.
InnoTamp Fugro Data gathering to ensure the maintenance of optimum rail alignment.
Thermal Radiometry for the Remote Condition Monitoring of Railway Vehicles Rail Innovations Uses thermal radiometry camera technology to measure temperatures of mechanical systems on moving trains. This enables automatic alarms to be sent over the Internet in the event of an over-temperature occurrence.

Optimised railway operations

Project Lead organisation Summary
Minimising disruption of overhead line renewals via novel headspan assemblies Associated Utility Supplies (AUS) Ltd Span wire clamping system to enable rapid, low-cost overhead line equipment headspan renewals with minimum network disruption.
Trainserv Software User Trial and Preparation for Commercialisation Cogitare Ltd Trainserv integrates multiple sources of real-time data for use by rail workers to help them improve services and respond to incidents.
Cleartrak on Train Testing (CoTT) Garrandale Limited Innovative and efficient system for processing toilet waste, reducing cost and maintenance requirements.
IRIS: Information system for railway station staff Liverpool John Moores University A new kind of information system for frontline station staff to enhance communication and enable them to help passengers in making travel decisions/planning more effectively.
Railway Optical Detection and Obstructions-Tunnel & Station Monitoring Vortex IoT Limited Sensors and data analysis tools to detect and identify intrusion and obstructions on the track, and send real time situational alerts to the rail control centre to prompt further investigation.
Improving resilience through a surface water flooding decision support system JBA Consulting Seeks to develop a first-of-a-kind surface water flood forecasting and early warning system for Network Rail using technology and data to map the surface water flood likelihood in real time, ahead of the event and forecast rainfall intensity.
Improved railway operations through train-mounted water addition CoCatalyst Limited Spraying a small amount of water from the train when slippery rails are detected to improve train traction and braking, and prevent subsequent services from being affected.


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