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Developing ‘pandemic proof’ train travel

Government invests £9m in projects to improve rail journeys, increase passenger confidence and make network greener

06 July 2021
Funding winner design agency PriestmanGoode devises new approaches to the spaces in which people travel
Funding winner design agency PriestmanGoode devises new approaches to the spaces in which people travel


The Department for Transport has funded 30 projects with a share of £9m. This year, the competition has been aimed at making the railways cleaner, greener and more passenger-friendly.

The competition is focused on developing pioneering technology and exceptional ideas that can improve journeys for travellers, encourage passengers back onto the network and reduce the environmental impacts of rail as we build back better from COVID-19.

The winners of the latest round of the First of a Kind (FOAK) competition were announced on 2 July 2021 by the Transport Secretary.

Grant Shapps said: “These winners will hopefully play a role in putting passengers at the centre of our railways as we build back better from COVID-19. The competition always throws up surprises and the ideas shown today could transform how we travel in future.”

Winning projects include:

  • The Passenger Orientation Guide (POG) by Mission Room: a virtual reality immersive journey planning app for trains and stations is among the ideas that could make journeys easier by reducing passenger anxiety and helping passengers to understand their journey ahead of travelling. The app connects rail travellers to the world outside their window and brings the route to life. As passengers travel, the app uses geo-location to immerse them in the history and stories of the places they travel through, making even the morning commute a train ride back in time.
  • Optimising passenger flows through stations by Hitachi Europe: a system developed to monitor people flow, congestion points and behaviour at stations, so operators can remove bottlenecks and deploy countermeasures, helping people avoid crowds and restoring passenger confidence in the rail system post COVID-19
  • Proteus by Priestman Goode: a scheme that provides an interchangeable interior train carriage for quick, deep cleaning and allows operators to rejig a trains seating layout at short notice – reacting to demand, keeping passengers safe and freeing up space
  • Proactive mitigation of adverse weather conditions to increase passenger confidence in rail resilience by Lenz Labs: a project that uses electromagnetism to deliver safe and predictable braking in harsh conditions while improving acceleration
  • Reducing emissions by accelerating the shift to low carbon transport in heavy rail freight by Clean Air Power GT: a scheme that aims to deliver a train running on hydrogen and a hydrogen gas blend promising low emissions and a greener railway.

The competition was runin partnership with Innovate UK. Simon Edmonds, deputy executive chair and chief business officer, Innovate UK, said: “As we move ever closer to getting past the pandemic, passengers are returning to the railway. To give them ever greater confidence that rail is safe and sustainable, we called upon UK innovators to come up with fresh ideas. Yet again the response has been fantastic. Not only will passengers benefit from these great innovations, but business prospects are bright in this sector too.”

Now in its fifth round, the competition was open to inventors from across the nation, regardless of the organisation’s size, which allows small companies with bright ideas to be recognised.

Previous winners include the LoCe (Less oil, Cleaner exhaust) project that secured £398,000 in 2020. The project has developed new diesel exhaust technology that reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by around 80%. The technology has been fitted to a Porterbrook-owned Class 170 Turbostar, operated by East Midlands Railway, and has subsequently reduced harmful engine emissions.

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