Accelerating Innovation in Rail 5

Key Features

Businesses can apply for a share of £7.9 million for innovations to minimise disruption to train services and to develop initiatives for intelligent trains.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Up to around £2.8m

Opens: 18th Sep 2017

Closes: 15th Nov 2017

! This scheme is now closed

The Fifth Accelerating Innovation in Rail (AIiR 5) competition opens on 18 September 2017.

Innovate UK is managing this collaborative R & D competition on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector, to enable technologies to be readily and rapidly integrated into the railway system.

Businesses will be able to apply for funding to develop technology prototypes in the broad areas of:

  • Intelligent trains
  • Minimal disruption to train services

TBAT will update you with the competition information once it is available.

** Please notes, all dates and amounts listed here are estimates based on information released by KTN and Innovate UK **
The aim of this competition is to create innovations that address the main goals identified in the industry’s ‘Rail Technical Strategy Capability Delivery Plan’ 2017. These are:

  • ‘minimal disruption to train services’
  • ‘intelligent trains’

Funding is available for a portfolio of projects, including industrial research and experimental development. Project proposals must show significant innovation in one of these areas. They must also improve the business growth and productivity of at least one UK SME involved in the project, or offer new export opportunities.

Proposals must show innovation and the potential for future real-world applications and potential for exploitation. The competition assessors’ scoring will be weighted to focus on these goals. Applications should provide evidence that there is a market need for the solution proposed. You must demonstrate that you have engaged with potential customers in the rail industry.

It is encouraged that you  discuss regulations and policy with potential customer organisations before you complete your submission.

Applications must address specific challenges faced by organisations in the rail and light-rail industries. These include direct suppliers to the industry and ‘challenge owners’ such as:

  • Network Rail
  • London Underground
  • HS1
  • HS2
  • Crossrail
  • train operating companies
  • rolling-stock operators
  • other rail and light-rail projects currently in the planning phase

Your proposal must show an understanding of human behaviour, so that users (rail industry employees or passengers) will make use of the innovation. Your project must include proofs of concept and demonstrate how the technology can be applied across the network.


Specific competition themes 

There are 2 specific themes for this competition.

Minimal disruption to train services

Railway rolling stock and infrastructure need to meet the future needs of passenger and freight customers. The railway must therefore make these more reliable, more readily available and easier to maintain.

Innovations that fit into this theme could include:

  • establishing data-sharing principles and an information architecture that supports whole-system asset management
  • providing better ways to monitor and visualise the status and location of infrastructure and rolling stock
  • deterring customers or the public from disrupting train services
  • developing technology that automatically delivers preventive maintenance plans and completes maintenance before a failure occurs (known as a ‘predict and prevent’ strategy
  • optimising the performance of systems during adverse and extreme weather conditions

For more innovations that could fit this theme click here. 

Solutions must be economical, and can be designed to help make better use of existing assets (including the telecommunications network).


Intelligent Trains

Advances in computational power, communications, automation and sensing give the railway the potential to develop and deploy intelligent rolling stock. Intelligent trains are capable of operating in a fully autonomous mode under remote supervision. Such trains can reduce the railway’s reliance on complex and expensive infrastructure and control systems, and will improve capacity, punctuality and reliability. Intelligent trains may be able to monitor themselves and their environment, making the network more reliable and cost effective.

Innovations that fit into this theme could include:

  • meeting the needs of the customer more effectively, such as delivering shorter journey times and a better on-board experience
  • developing mechatronics (combining mechanical, electronic and software systems) to deliver intelligent rail vehicles
  • providing on-board equipment that intelligently inspects the environment. For instance, tools that detect and inspect line-side features, such as fences and boundaries, vegetation, obstructions or trespassers to help trains to run safely and efficiently
  • providing systems that respond intelligently to speed restrictions, and making it possible to be more flexible in defining temporary speed restrictions
  • adopting technologies from other industries to create more intelligent trains

For more innovations that could fit this theme, click here. 


To be eligible for funding you must:

  • be a UK based business or research and technology organisation
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • work in collaboration with others, including at least one SME
  • propose a project that meets our definition of ‘industrial research’ or ‘experimental development’

To lead a project you must be a UK based business and can be a business of any size.

At least 2 of the organisations involved must be claiming funding from Innovate UK.

Funding and project details 

Up to £7.9 million has been allocated to fund collaborative projects.

It is expected that funding will be:

  • up to £3.95 million for projects that support the minimisation of disruption to train services
  • up to £3.95 million for projects to develop intelligent trains

Within these bands:

  • around £1.1 million will be allocated for projects that last up to 12 months
  • £6.8 million for projects up to 2 years

Projects should last between 6 months and 2 years. 

Projects are expected to range in size from total costs of £150,000 to £1.5 million.

Your project can focus on industrial research or experimental development.

For industrial research, you could get up to 70% of your eligible project costs if you are an SME.

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get up to 45% of your eligible project costs if you are an SME.