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£5.3 million investment in innovative projects to make railways more accessible

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Innovate UK

Winners announced for the First of a Kind (FOAK) 2023 competition.

  • over £5 million of government funding to make journeys more modern, efficient and convenient for passengers
  • funding split between 17 projects all using new technology to make our railways more accessible
  • more accessibility projects have been funded through this year’s First of a Kind competition than ever before

AI technology could soon see live staff announcements across train tickers to ensure passengers hard of hearing do not miss vital updates, thanks to a government funding competition announced today (23 November 2023).

This is just one of the 17 projects – 6 of which are focused on accessibility – being announced today as part of the 2023 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition.

Run in conjunction with Innovate UK, other accessibility projects set to share the £5.3 million of funding offered by the government include:

  • strategically placed QR codes around stations that allow train managers to directly input important information on platform changes and service alterations, as well as acting as a database for accessible information, ensuring passengers have all the information they need
  • an online journey planner providing up-to-date information on key facilities, such as where accessible toilets are in stations and trains throughout their journey and whether they’re open and in use – giving passengers more confidence when planning journeys
  • installing kiosk systems on platforms – similar to pressing a button on a bus to let the driver know to stop – in rural areas where passengers currently have to physically flag down trains, which can cause difficulties for those with mobility needs

This is the seventh round of FOAK funding, which aims to develop new and innovative technology to drive efficiency, modernise our current infrastructure and make using our railways a better experience for passengers. The funding will support the projects through their development phases involving real trials on the railways in the coming months and giving them a better chance of being used across the network long term.

Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, said:

We’re spending more than £5 million on modernising train journeys, improving the experience for some of the most vulnerable passengers and using cutting-edge technology to do so.

The projects announced today have the potential to make a huge difference to passengers, whether that’s being able to read important announcements or locate accessible facilities. I’m proud of the support we’ve been able to show through this competition to drive towards a more innovative, inclusive and better value-for-money rail network.

Other winning projects this year include:

  • a sensor to detect when there are leaves on the line – a problem that causes delays across the network
  • DreamSuite, a new design for UK sleeper services
  • new technology that will allow train timetables to rapidly update during extreme weather events, so people are kept up to date  

Over the past 6 years, more than £50 million of funding has been awarded to 150 projects as part of the competition, helping a number of innovative technology reach the market including:

  • Seat Frog, which allows passengers to swap train tickets without having to purchase a new one
  • train-mounted camera able to identify and address lineside maintenance issues
  • technology from Transreport that enables passengers with disabilities to request assistance more easily

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:

This new investment in accessibility improvements is a welcome move to help rail passengers with disabilities travel freely and with greater confidence.

It is important that people with disabilities have full access to trains and station facilities. Improving information and new innovative solutions will help staff give all passengers the support they need.

Mike Biddle, Executive Director for Net Zero at Innovate UK, said:

The innovations receiving support through this competition are set to foster a more accessible, inclusive railway system within the UK and to develop demonstrators that offer innovations in customer experience, reliable and maintainable assets and optimised train operations.

The objective is to endorse a wider array of innovations that focus on enhancing railway accessibility for all passengers, ensuring a more equitable travel experience while creating easy-to-maintain assets and optimising train operations.

As part of the Network North plan, we have set aside a further £350 million to improve accessibility at up to 100 stations, meaning stations will be able to benefit from refitted lifts, tactile surfaces, ramps and footbridges, new ticket gates and accessible waiting rooms and toilets.

See the complete list of FOAK 2023 winners.

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