SBRI Rail Demonstrations: First of a Kind 2021

Key Features

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £9 million inclusive of VAT, to develop demonstrators that: increase customers’ confidence and enhance experience, deliver a railway that is easy to use, offer low emissions and a greener railway

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Share of up to £9 million

Opens: 8th Feb 2021

Closes: 10th Mar 2021

! This scheme is now closed


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

This competition is part of a larger ‘first of a kind’ demonstrator initiative, on behalf of DfT, 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 fifth in the first of a kind portfolio.


The aim of this competition is to demonstrate how proven technologies can be integrated into a railway environment for the first time as ‘first of a kind’ demonstrations.

It aims to encourage innovation in the rail industry using novel technologies, for example automation and innovative uses of data. Innovate UK will help innovative suppliers to 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.

Example environments can include:

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

This list is not exhaustive, Innovate UK may also consider demonstrators in settings highly representative of these environments.

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

You must provide relevant proofs, showing 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 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

Specific Themes

Theme 1: Increasing customers’ confidence and enhancing their experience

Increasing confidence in rail services, attracting back customers and welcoming new customers by providing assurance that travel by train is safe, and making it an enjoyable and productive experience.

Theme 2: Easy to use for all

Making it easier for passengers to plan and manage their journey so as to reduce stress, exclusion and time lost. Personalised services and assistance, where requested, to make using rail as seamless as possible. Providing these in a way that minimises crowding and reliance on fixed information points for passengers.

Theme 3: Low emissions and a greener railway

Delivering a more sustainable, greener railway. Innovations in traction and non-traction decarbonisation, on-site decarbonisation, energy generation, noise reduction, biodiversity, light-weighting, the use of cleaner energy systems, carbon modelling, targeting specific ‘problem’ locations, reducing pollution from diesel trains and retro-fit options.


This competition 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
  • 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
  • have total eligible costs or project terms outside of the eligibility guidance

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.


Projects are expected to start by 1 July 2021, must end by 31 March 2022 and can last up to 9 months. This project end date is fixed and non-negotiable.

To lead a project, you must:

  • be an organisation of any size registered in the UK, EU, or EEA
  • carry out your project work in the UK

Applicants are welcome from all sectors. You can work alone or with other organisations as subcontractors.

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.

You must also:

  • include a potential integration partner
  • have a letter of support from a potential customer organisation

Innovate UK 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

Contracts will be awarded only to a single legal entity. However, if you can justify subcontracting components of the work, you can employ specialist consultants or advisers. This work will still be the responsibility of the main contractor.

Funding Costs

A total of up to £9 million, inclusive of VAT, is allocated to this competition. Successful projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The funders have the right to take a portfolio approach across 2 project groups and all scope themes.

Innovate UK will assign your project to a group dependant on your total project costs and duration.

You must select which scope theme you are applying for. If a project covers more than one theme, choose one where most of the work is being undertaken.

Group 1 projects must:

  • be eligible under scope themes 1 or 2 only
  • have total project costs from £50,000 to £150,000 inclusive of VAT.
  • have a duration of 3 to 6 months

Group 2 projects must:

  • be eligible under scope themes 1, 2 or 3
  • have total project costs from £50,000 to £400,000 inclusive of VAT
  • have a duration longer than 6 months
  • have a maximum duration of 9 months