SBRI: FOAK 2022 Rail Freight

Key Features

Organisations can apply for a share of £7,610,000, inclusive of VAT, to deliver innovations to address railway priorities across 3 themes.

Programme:     Department for Transport

Award:     Share of up to £7,610,000

Opens: 20th Apr 2022

Closes: 8th Jun 2022

! This scheme is now closed


This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the Department for Transport (DfT). The aim of the competition is to deliver high maturity demonstrations of innovations to the UK railways.

This competition is part of a larger ‘first of a kind’ demonstrator initiative, on behalf of DfT. The initiative aims to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable technologies to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system. This competition is the sixth in the first of a kind portfolio.

This first of a kind competition has three themes:

  • Theme 1 – Low emissions and a greener railway
  • Theme 2 – Rail Freight (this theme)
  • Theme 3 – Cost efficiency and performance priorities for a reliable railway


The aim of the first of a kind competitions, is to deliver demonstrations to the UK’s railways. These must support low emissions and a greener railway, enhance rail freight, and address a range of key network performance priorities.

You must demonstrate how proven technologies can be integrated into a railway environment for the first time as ‘first of a kind’ demonstrations. This competition aims to support innovative suppliers in preparation for 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.

Example environments can include:

  • within a railway station
  • in rolling stock
  • on railway infrastructure
  • in the environment close to the railway

You must describe your projects potential to be successfully exploited in a railway environment. We encourage you to discuss regulations, policy and other requirements with potential customer organisations before you submit your application.

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
  • include an evaluation phase, collecting data to support the cost benefit assessment of your proposed solution

You must provide evidence, showing your innovation can attract customers, get insurance, supply warranties, and attract financing.

Your evidence must show:

  • 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 must demonstrate potential benefits to passengers and customers, including:

  • why customers would buy the product
  • how the funding will help applicants grow and result in broader economic benefits

DfT will give preference to applications which:

  • help the innovation to be formally accepted for use on the railway, for example, through obtaining test certificates or product acceptance approvals
  • offer innovations that can be used by multiple railway organisations

For your theme 2 – Rail Freight project, you must work with a railway partner to deliver a demonstration of your innovation in a live railway environment.

You must also include an evaluation activity to identify the cost and benefits of your deliverables, and to support commercial uptake of your product.

You must present at an industry briefing event to highlight the benefits you can bring to the railways.

Your project must give a demonstration of your innovation in a live railway environment as a key deliverable and must be included as part of your milestones.

You must complete an evaluation activity at the end of the project, measuring data to anticipate the commercial impact that adoption of the innovation will have on the railway network.


DfT 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 already well-developed technology at Rail Industry Readiness level 5, above or do not have low technical risk
  • that cannot effectively deliver a demonstration within a live railway environment
  • do not feature a demonstration phase, offering potential customers a chance to use the innovation and give feedback
  • do not include an evaluation phase, and a plan to collect information to inform a cost or benefit analysis
  • have total eligible costs or project terms outside of the eligibility guidance
  • would directly duplicate other UK government or EU funded initiatives you have already been funded to deliver
  • are covered by existing commercial agreements to deliver the proposed solutions
  • do not address how any potentially negative outcomes, such as on the environment or society, would be managed

Specific Themes

Your project must focus on one or more of the following:

  • innovation to support modal shift to rail for freight services
  • innovation to deliver rail freight growth, increase efficiency and meet future customer needs
  • improved timetabling and scheduling, to allow a wider variety of freight to be shipped, including keeping freight running during engineering work.
  • improved routing and tracking capabilities, for example to ensure that the railway can integrate fully with intermodal freight and services to develop new markets for light packed, high value goods
  • innovation which supports rail freight resilience
  • flexible interiors for light freight
  • innovation to reduce the noise impact of freight trains
  • innovation to decarbonise rail freight and to improve air quality
  • freight handling automation
  • multi-functional rolling stock
  • innovation to make electrification compatible with freight depots
  • innovation to increase average speed and to support high-speed rail freight services to improve competitiveness with other modes
  • delivery of freight by rail into congested city centres.
  • next generation logistics
  • automated modal interchanges, allowing freight to be transferred quickly and efficiently for onward transit
  • innovation to support freight operations during railway construction, such as spoil disposal
  • better wagon design and maintenance
  • improved operation through new freight hubs
  • self-assembling consists
  • repurposing of redundant passenger and freight rolling stock
  • freight solutions which work in tandem with passenger services
  • innovation that might support future autonomous freight trains
  • lower cost of whole life operation for rail freight
  • innovation to make rail freight more competitive compared to other transport modes and to reduce freight costs
  • passenger luggage solutions
  • innovation in freight diversionary activities
  • last mile interface for freight delivery
  • reduction of end-to-end freight journey times


Your project:

  • can start by 1 October 2022
  • must end by 30 September 2023
  • can last up to 12 months


To lead a project, you can:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or with others from business, research organisations, research and technology organisations or the third sector as subcontractors

Applicants are welcome from all sectors.

Your project must involve:

  • an owner of railway assets (for example stations, rolling stock or infrastructure)
  • an experienced railway organisation
  • a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer

These criteria can be met by a single organisation or up to three separate organisations.

You must also:

  • include a potential integration partner
  • have a letter of support signed by a senior individual, from a potential railway customer organisation

Proposals into this competition must already be high maturity at Rail Industry Readiness level 5 or above. You must evidence this as part of your application.

DfT welcome projects that include either an:

  • innovative start-up supply company that is already delivering in another sector
  • organisation with railway expertise, such as train operating companies, a freight operator, rolling stock manufacturers or operators and infrastructure owners

This competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian entity as lead or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian source.

If you have previously been funded for the same or similar innovations, you will not be eligible for this competition.

If your online application is assessed as eligible, you may be invited to attend an interview, where you must give a presentation.

Funding Costs

For theme 2 – Rail Freight, a total of up to £2.4million, inclusive of VAT, is allocated. Contracts will be up to £400,000, inclusive of VAT, for each project for up to 12 months. We expect to fund up to 6 projects.

The total funding available for the competition can change. The funders have the right to:

  • adjust the provisional funding allocations between the themes and phases
  • apply a ‘portfolio’ approach

You must select whether you are VAT registered before entering your project costs.

If you select you are VAT registered, you must enter your project costs exclusive of VAT

If you select you are not VAT registered, you must enter your project costs exclusive of VAT and no VAT will be added.

Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to R&D services, including solution exploration and design. R&D can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service.

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


Interested in applying for this competition?

Book an appointment to speak to one of our advisors to discuss your eligibility to apply for this Grant Funding opportunity.