Twenty-five high-tech railway modernisation projects are sharing £9.4 million in new funding from the Department for Transport, in partnership with the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Several of the competition-winning projects put sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) at the heart of an infrastructure renewal programme that aims to make rail travel greener, cleaner, and more passenger friendly as the UK moves towards net zero carbon emissions.

They also include a new 5G infrastructure for stations, hydrogen powered freight trains, a new seat-switching app, and technology to tackle perennial problems for British commuters, such as leaves on the line and icy platforms. The latter could be solved by low-energy concrete slabs that heat up in the winter.

The successful sensor- and IoT-based projects include:

  • Integrated optical fibre sensing technology from rcm2 Ltd, which monitors the condition of switches and crossings on railway tracks.
  • Train axle crack monitoring from Perpetuum, which helps to reduce returns to depot via a mix of sensors and pattern-recognition systems.
  • Remote monitoring of railway vehicles’ condition, from Rail Innovations. The project uses thermal radiometry cameras to measure the temperature of mechanical systems on moving trains, triggering an online alarm in the event of overheating.
  • A project from Vortex IoT Limited to deploy sensors and data analysis techniques to detect and identify intrusions and obstructions on the track, sending real-time alerts to railway network managers.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “I am delighted to announce the winners of this year’s first of a kind competition, which will support better, more environmentally friendly journeys.

“Crucially, these pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable, and responsive railway, making their journeys simpler and easier.

“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.”

Executive chair of Innovate UK, Ian Campbell added, “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.”