19 Aug 2020

Hidden R&D in the Rail Industry

Sam Stephens

Research and Development in the Rail Industry occurs at all levels, from the rail giants building trains and carriages to SMEs within the supply chain.

There is also a wide range of ‘hidden’ R&D that is crucial to keeping the UK railways running and generates innovative new hardware, software and systems which are securing the future of the industry as a feasible public transport and freight service.

Where is the hidden R&D in the Rail Industry?


There are already many apps in use which help make rail travel easier for passengers. They allow passengers to book tickets and seats, check train times and notify them about real-time delays.

There are also innovative apps coming to market which connect passengers to the train operators in real-time to allow them to request assistance ready for their stop and report problems directly to the train operators while on the train. Other innovative solutions developed in recent years include software platforms which allow train operators to better understand where and why delays occur on the network. This allows them to deploy additional staff and prioritise engineering works.

The development of new apps can transform user experience for rail passengers, giving them more flexibility and making rail travel a more user-friendly experience for the future.


Recently the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) ran a funding competition to seek software solutions for dynamic train planning. The development of this software will move rail operators closer to automating train planning, enabling flexibility and optimal use of the rail network.

These systems could potentially use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to enable the system to react to issues on a railway line, re-plan routes to reduce delays for passengers and reduce workloads for operators and controllers that would typically do this manually.

Sensor technology:

A wide array of sensor technologies are essential to the rail industry and are increasingly being adopted for wider uses.

Sensors have had a revolutionary impact on monitoring the essential parts of a train for wear and tear. They are used to highlight when servicing, maintenance or repairs are needed prior to the part breaking or wearing excessively. This not only saves money, but also decreases the time a train is out of service.

Targeted innovation in sensor technology could result in further remote monitoring of essential rail infrastructure, including bridges, tunnels and tracks to highlight maintenance and renewal issues. These have the potential to further reduce the need for emergency repairs and line closures which result in disruption and delays.


Security for the rail industry poses its own challenges, with huge distances of track to monitor in addition to trains, platforms, and stations. The varied threats that face the railway make the task even more complex.

Transport for London (TfL) have their own solution which was created for the London Underground, to automatically indicate when CCTV cameras develop faults. This ensures that they are made fully operational again as quickly as possible.

There have also been innovation funding opportunities from The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) seeking automated systems to scan and screen train carriages and assistive technologies for rail staff to be able to identify unusual behaviour; all to help identify and manage security threats.


Performing maintenance on rail infrastructure such as tracks and tunnels is classed as a challenging environment and poses many significant dangers to the engineers. In addition, taking possession of track and rail assets in order to conduct maintenance is an unpredictable and costly exercise. This means that innovation in this area is essential to reduce time spent trackside and the associated risks.

The rail industry is performing maintenance faster and smarter than ever – infrastructure monitoring trains and remote monitoring systems alert engineers to potential problems as they arise so action can be taken before failure. New machinery is used as well as modular pre-built replacement parts being delivered straight to site, which keeps disruption to a minimum.

Technology being developed by UK businesses includes a track mounted system that is capable of assessing point/switch damage and replacing lost material by 3D printing metal directly onto the component. In addition, the use of groundbreaking drone technology which can be flown beyond visual line of sight is now capable of the automated inspection of significant distances of rail. Interchangeable sensors mean that the range of possible surveys is limited only by the payload weight.

Civil engineering:

One of the best-known engineering projects in the UK rail industry is HS2, which is designed to offer low-carbon, high-capacity fast travel while connecting eight of Britain’s largest cities.

The full HS2 network will have 343 miles of track, 45 miles of tunnels and 37 miles of viaducts – all of which will pose their own engineering challenges, which must be overcome during construction. The construction of new stations and platforms and adaption of existing stations to accommodate the lines will also inspire innovative solutions, while also bringing customer experience into the 21st Century.

Benefits of R&D in the Rail Industry

With so much innovation happening in the rail industry, R&D Tax Credits are a great way for UK businesses to receive a reward for the research and development they have performed in the sector.

HMRC schemes allow any size of business to benefit from R&D Tax Relief. Both the SME Scheme and RDEC Scheme offer either a reduction in Corporation Tax or a cash repayment for UK businesses.

Whether your project was self-funded, grant funded or subcontracted to or by you; your business should be able to claim for a percentage of its R&D expenditure.

How to claim R&D in the Rail Industry

Identifying whether your company is eligible to claim R&D Tax Relief is the first step to making a claim. There are a few simple criteria to meet:

  • Is your business a limited company registered in the UK?
  • Is your company a ‘going-concern’?
  • Has your company performed research and development activities within the last two financial years?

If the answer to all those questions is ‘Yes’, then your next step is to work out how much your R&D Tax Credit claim could be worth. You can do this very quickly by using our online R&D Tax Calculator.

If you’d prefer to speak to a human being, our Consultants are available to discuss your potential R&D Tax claim, so simply book an appointment with one of our team.

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