SBRI: innovation in automated tunnel examination

Key Features

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £1.5 million, plus VAT, for projects that develop and demonstrate innovation to automate the examination of tunnels.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Share of up to £1.5 million

Opens: 16th Sep 2019

Closes: 13th Nov 2019

! This scheme is now closed


Network Rail to invest up to £1.5 million, plus VAT. This will support the development and demonstration of new capability in automated tunnel examination. The competition process is managed by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

The competition supports the objectives of Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6) funding strategy for research and development. The aim of this competition is to improve the accuracy, efficiency and safety of tunnel examinations resulting in a safer and more reliable operational railway.

Your project should reduce the time taken to complete examinations through improved automation and increased repeatability and reproducibility of data. It must also mitigate the risks associated with lower quality examinations due to challenging access constraints and human centric bias.


The aim of this competition is to develop a solution for automating tunnel examinations, and to demonstrate this on the live railway. The performance of the system will be compared to conventional manual inspections as part of the validation. The team will be required to share the technical specification with Network Rail as part of the deliverable report.

The project will aim to improve the accuracy and efficiency of tunnel examinations. The new system will:

  • reduce the need for manual examinations
  • remove human centric bias
  • inspect both surface and sub-surface defects
  • use machine learning to identify and track defects
  • remove the need for human review and analysis
  • output data in a format that aligns with the Tunnel Condition Marking Index (TCMI) which will be made available to you
  • be defined in conjunction with the definitions of Rail Industry Readiness Levels (RIRL)
  • align with Network Rail IT systems
  • enable engineers to view and analyse results

Additional information on the technical objectives of the project are included in the supporting technical document pack, available to applicants in the secure download site once you start your application.


Innovate UK are not funding 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
  • do not create a significant change in the level of innovation available in the rail industry
  • are not high maturity
  • have high technical risk
  • have collaborations that cannot effectively deliver a demonstration in a railway environment
  • do not have a demonstration phase, offering the customer a chance to use the innovation and give feedback
  • include anything that presents a risk to the operational railway or safety of workers
  • use equipment that needs contact with the tunnel lining


Your organisation must:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • carry out its project work in the UK

Your organisation must be based in the UK, EU, EEA, USA or Canada. If it is based in the USA or Canada, you must have a legal presence in the EU.

Your organisation can work alone or, if you do not have all the required expertise, you can work with others as subcontractors.

Your project team must include organisations with expertise in infrastructure inspection, surveying and measurement.

Teams must also demonstrate the ability to provide access and safety supervision for any plant or equipment used. You should give clear details of these organisations and their expertise in your application.

Innovate UK expect your demonstration to be in an operational railway environment, however, they understand it may be a challenge to access railway assets and railway organisations.

Therefore, you will need to develop your own relationships with organisations with appropriate expertise. To get help building your team, you may want to:

Funding Costs

Up to £1.5 million, plus VAT, has been allocated to fund innovation projects in this competition.

Successful projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by Network Rail 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. 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

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £350,000 and £500,000, plus VAT.

Projects must plan to start by 1 March 2020 and end by 31 August 2021.

They can last between 12 and 18 months.