Quadrant Transport sits down with Innovate UK’s innovation lead for rail, Kelvin Davies, to discuss the fifth round of its ‘First of a Kind’ competition which focuses on sustainability and customer experience.
Following the opening of a £9 million fund to railway innovators and inventors, Quadrant Transport spoke to Kelvin Davies, innovation lead for rail at Innovate UK. The ‘First of a Kind’ (FOAK) competition is now in its fifth round and Kelvin explained, “each round we have roughly twice the amount of interest from the previous round, so there is no shortage of ideas, there is no shortage of opportunities.”
“The competition format has been going from strength to strength,” he continued. Offering a share of a £9 million prize to the rail ideas of tomorrow, the competition produces ground-breaking innovation for the rail industry.
“Innovation always takes time,” Kelvin explained. In order to ensure entries will be successful on the tracks, the competition asks for a live demonstration on rail, “that maximises the chance of it being accepted and commercialised by the railway industry,” continued Kevin.
Despite the successful rollout of many of their investments, the competition has seen set-backs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus has “affected the railways in a fairly dramatic way,” Kelvin told Quadrant Transport. “Most of the trams have done very well so we have only experienced short delays,” he added.
Restoring trust in rail
Previous investment by the competition has driven forward the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train. “Getting that vehicle operational on the national railway network was a real triumph,” Kelvin told Quadrant Transport.
With a focus on developing pioneering technology, the competition is looking for exceptional ideas that can improve journeys for passengers and decarbonise the rail network. In particular, the FOAK competition is looking to support innovations that make the network cleaner, greener and more passenger-friendly.
“Rail is already a fantastically decarbonised transport,” Kelvin said, “the government’s objectives are even greener. The government have set challenging targets. We support a number of initiatives to make the railways greener.”
Looking specifically for innovation that targets sustainability and on-board experience, InnovateUK welcome innovators who have ideas that could help regain trust in the rail industry following the pandemic.
This round of the FOAK competition is called, ‘Increasing Customer Confidence and Their Experience.
“Our challenge now is to get past [preconceptions about the safety of rail] and restore trust back into rail,” said Kelvin.
It is imperative that rail shows passengers that the right precautions are being taken to ensure they are safe on board to boost passenger numbers to pre-COVID times. Kelvin explained this is why “restoring trust in railways” is a key theme of the competition.
If you think you have an innovation that works on rail, click here to apply for the funding. This round of the FOAK competition closes on 10th March.