Department for Transport announces winners of rail innovation funding competition as industry urges for more support for hydrogen trains
A host of innovative technologies to modernise Britain's railways, such as hydrogen-powered freight trains, zero carbon rail maintenance machines, and 5G WiFi infrastructure, are among 25 projects to win a share of £9.4m funding awarded by the government today.
The Department for Transport (DfT) and government-backed agency Innovate UK have unveiled the latest recipients of its 'First of a Kind' (FOAK) funding competition, which is aimed at encouraging innovation across the rail industry.
Technologies and projects to secure a share of the funding pot include innovations such as low-noise rails, hydrogen-based steam turbines to provide zero emission low cost travel, and concrete slabs which automatically heat up in freezing conditions to help avoid slipping, DfT said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the funding competition would help support better and "more environmentally friendly journeys" across the UK's rail network.
"Crucially, these pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway, making their journeys simpler and easier," he explained. "From clever technology on platforms to prevent icy surfaces, new 'seat-switching' apps and improved 5G Wi-Fi connections, harnessing innovation will be crucial to modernising the network and making our railways greener and cleaner, as we build out of Covid-19 and look to the future."
Among funding recipients are the 'Less Oil, Cleaner Exhaust' retrofit project to make mid-life diesel engines more environmentally sustainable, the Riding Sunbeams scheme to directly connect railway lines to solar panels, and the HydroFLEX Raft Production power pack system which aims to bring hydrogen trains into service while maximising space for passengers on board.
The news came as the Rail Industry Association (RIA) yesterday called on the government to offer more support for low carbon, hydrogen, and self-powered trains in order to spur a green economic boost from Covid-19, while also helping to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
David Clarke, the trade body's technical director, urged the government to "accelerate" its plans to cut emissions from the rail network by committing to place an order for hydrogen trains, which he argued would "help the sector best support the UK's economic resurgence".
"Alongside a rolling programme of electrification for intensively used routes, hydrogen and battery technology can help decarbonise branch lines across the network, reducing the use of diesel trains," explained Clarke. "The technology already exists, but what is now needed is a commitment to a fleet order. Not only will this help achieve the UK's decarbonisation goals, but it will stimulate a new market in the rail industry, generating jobs and investment across the country and creating a competitive advantage for UK plc as it looks to increase exports."
A number of European countries already have hydrogen train trials up and running, but while the government has expressed its support for the technology it is yet to confirm a timeline for real world trials.
Advocates of fuel cell trains argue they could provide a cheaper alternative for decarbonising routes that are currently reliant on diesel trains compared to investing in the full electrification of the network.
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