The UK Department of Transport and innovation agency Innovative UK have awarded 25 projects with a share of its £9.4m prize from the 2020 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition, which aims to encourage innovation in the rail sector.

Innovate UK executive chair Ian Campbell commented: “These high-quality projects illustrate the appetite of UK organisations to develop new and exciting innovations for rail transport that improve customers’ user experience, that optimise railway efficiency, and are environmentally sustainable.”

The competition, which was started in 2016, is open to all technologies and industries that can help the UK create a greener and more cost-effective railway system while supporting decarbonisation. The UK transport secretary said: “These pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway, making their journey simpler and easier.”

Decarbonising rail traction innovator Riding Sunbeams and specialist equipment company Associated Utility Supplies (AUS) were amongst the winners.

Via its Daybreak project, Riding Sunbeams focuses on the decarbonisation of the sector, developing a direct connection between renewable energy generation and overhead lines in railway systems.

“This project is a huge step forward for our mission to develop and connect unsubsidised, direct-wire renewable generation and energy storage to power British trains, with significant social impact for line-side communities,” said Riding Sunbeams CTO Alex Byford.

“Our latest project will showcase our ability to adapt existing technologies to directly power AC rail networks with clean, green energy and also help to support low-cost electrification of some of the most challenging remaining diesel-powered lines.”

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AUS’s first project focuses on a composite railway footbridge, which is made of a fibre-reinforced polymer with a low environmental impact while the second one aims to minimise the disruption of overhead renewals. AUS has in fact developed span wire clamping systems that will enable low-cost overhead line equipment, which will maintain network disruptions to a minimum.

“AUS is extremely proud to have been selected to deliver two projects as part of the First of a Kind 2020 Rail innovation program funded by DfT and delivered by Innovate UK,” explained an AUS spokesperson.

“These projects will not only assist in carbon reduction versus current practise but will also lead to reduced network disruption and environmental impact whilst at the same time providing value for money and easing the burden on the public purse.”