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SBRI rail demonstrations: First of a kind 2020


Businesses from the UK, EU or EEA can apply for a share of up to £9.4million, including VAT, to develop demonstrators for sustainability, customer experience, operations or maintenance.

This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition and is open to organisations of all sizes from the UK, EU, or EEA.

The aim of the competition is to demonstrate innovations to stakeholders and railway customers in a representative railway environment.

This competition has four themes:

  • Environmental sustainability
  • Customer experience
  • Optimised railway operations
  • Optimised and cost-effective maintenance

The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation. The contract will be awarded to the lead applicant. Other organisations can only be involved in the project as subcontractors.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to demonstrate how proven technologies can be integrated into a railway environment for the first time (‘first of a kind’ demonstrations). It aims to encourage innovation in the rail industry through the use of novel technologies (for example automation) and innovative uses of data. Innovate UK will help innovative suppliers take the final step to market readiness.

Your project must create a highly interactive and innovative demonstrator. This should be in an environment where railway customers and industry representatives can witness the product as a compelling business proposition, for instance:

  • Within a railway station
  • In rolling stock
  • On railway infrastructure
  • In the environment close to the railway

Innovate UK may also consider demonstrators in settings highly representative of these environments.

You must prove you have a well-developed innovation that delivers the expected outcomes when integrated in complex real-world railway applications. Innovate UK will fund integration and direct user testing. Your solution must be field-tested and ready for use with an end customer by the end of your project.

Your application must demonstrate potential benefits to passengers and customers, including:

  • Why customers would buy the product
  • How the funding will help companies in the consortium grow and result in broader economic benefits
  • How you will obtain a clear route to market

Innovate UK will assess your proposal for its potential to be successfully exploited in a railway environment. Innovate UK encourage you to discuss regulations, policy and other requirements with potential customer organisations before you submit your application.

Innovate UK will give preference to applications which:

  • Help the innovation be formally accepted for use on the railway, such as through obtaining test certificates or product acceptance approvals
  • Offer innovations that can be used by multiple railway organisations

Innovate UK will apply a portfolio approach to maximise the benefit of the investment of public funding. The portfolio approach will be split across the four themes detailed in specific themes which also demonstrate value for money.

Your project must:

  • Gather evidence about integration challenges and explain how you will de-risk the integration
  • Demonstrate to railway stakeholders and customers the commercial benefits of the solution
  • Make taking up technologies less risky and faster
  • Be pre-commercial
  • Collect customer and performance feedback
  • Provide a business case for using the solution in a commercial environment
  • Consider the priorities of current and future franchises
  • Provide relevant proofs, so your innovation can attract customers, get insurance, supply warranties and attract financing

The relevant proofs are:

  • The technology works as designed when integrated into larger complex systems and delivers the expected outcomes
  • The technology is accepted by and delivers benefits for customers and the broader rail industry
  • There is revenue potential for the innovation within a real commercial context
  • The financing and business models can be delivered within a complex programme and consortium structure

You will keep all rights to your intellectual property (IP). However, if you create significant capability but do not choose to exploit it, Innovate UK reserve the right to do so under licence.

Specific themes

You must focus on one of these four themes. These lists are not exhaustive and we will consider other topics within each theme.

Theme 1: Environmental sustainability

This can include:

  • Low-carbon freight
  • Energy generation and storage solutions
  • Low emission self-powered vehicles
  • Sustainable non-traction energy solutions for stations and depots
  • Omproved air quality in enclosed spaces
  • Sustainable and recyclable materials that reduce the whole-life carbon footprint
  • Reduction of noise from diesel engines and wheels

Theme 2: Customer experience

This can include:

  • Improved access from stations to trains, considering the platform or train interface
  • Optimising overall journey time within the railway environment, for example station access, parking facilities or ticket machines and interchange with other transport modes
  • Improved travel accessibility for visible and non-visible disabilities
  • Access to information for those without modern technology devices such as smart phones
  • Good quality and predictable on-board and station connectivity
  • Cost-effective and easy to implement improvements to passenger comfort on-board trains
  • Analysing large volumes of customer feedback to drive improvements

Theme 3: Optimised railway operations

This can include:

  • Improved dwell time at stations
  • Optimised freight planning
  • Improved disruption recovery
  • Timely and accurate information for front-line staff
  • Technology to improve responses in the case of system failure
  • Reduction of minor operational issues which can escalate into significant disruption
  • Real-time decision-making assistance
  • Using robotics to improve safety and security on the railway

Theme 4: Optimised and cost-effective maintenance

This can include:

  • Use of automation and robotics for maintenance and inspection decision-making or tasks
  • Automated cleaning of railway assets, for example stations, trains or car parks
  • Enabling on-site or local maintenance to rolling stock, rather than having to return to maintenance depots for faults arising during service
  • Use of pattern-recognition technologies to automate inspections
  • Improved reporting of failures and/or issues

Innovate UK expect to fund projects with total eligible costs between £100,000 and £400,000, including VAT.

Projects must plan to start by 1 July 2020 and can last no more than nine months. All work must be completed by 31 March 2021. This completion date is fixed and non-negotiable.

You can work alone or collaborate with others as subcontractors.

To lead a project you:

  • Can be an organisation of any size
  • Must carry out your project work in the UK

Applicants are welcome from all sectors. Your project:

  • Must involve an owner of railway assets (such as stations, rolling stock or infrastructure), an experienced railway organisation and a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer (this can be the same organisation or three separate organisations)
  • Must include a potential integration partner
  • Must have a letter of support from a potential customer organisation
  • Will ideally include an innovative start-up supply company that is already delivering in another sector
  • Will ideally include an organisation with railway expertise, such as train operating companies, a freight operator, rolling stock manufacturers or operators and infrastructure owners

Innovate UK understand it may be a challenge to access railway assets and get permission to make modifications. Innovate UK expect you to develop your own relationships with railway asset owners.

To aid you in building your consortium, Innovate UK recommend you:

Innovate UK have allocated up to £9.4million, including VAT, to fund innovation projects in this competition.

Successful projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the competition process is managed by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

Applications must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively for research and development (R&D) services. For this competition, your application should focus on prototyping and field-testing your product or service in a representative railway environment.

For this competition R&D does not include:

  • Commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • Supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • Integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

Innovate UK will not fund projects that:

  • Are not likely to be successfully exploited by the rail industry to deliver benefits to rail or light-rail organisations and their customers
  • Are not within a year of being ready for market
  • Do not create a significant change in the level of innovation available in the rail industry
  • Are not well-developed technology or do not have low technical risk
  • Have collaborations that cannot effectively deliver a demonstration within a railway environment
  • Do not deliver an immersive innovative demonstrator in a railway context
  • Do not feature a demonstration phase, offering the customer a chance to use the innovation and give feedback

Note that although software (also known as ‘applications’) for mobile devices may be in scope, only a limited number of these projects will be supported.

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.