Innovation potential for social distancing in rail

Posted on: 21/05/2020

An outline of challenges faced by rail networks: if you have an innovative solution apply to the UKRI open competition.

The need to social distance whilst taking public transport is becoming an increasingly important consideration. As workplaces gradually reopen, rail travel will rise and with that rise, the need to remain 2m from fellow passengers at the station, on the platform and on the train is crucial.


UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has a rolling programme of funding for innovation ideas and novel solutions to address Covid-19 related challenges. KTN’s Knowledge Transfer Manager for Rail, Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain has looked at some of the problems directly identified by the Railway Industry Coronavirus Forum that could be faced when safely implementing social distancing on the rail network; the UKRI funding call should be a consideration if you believe your innovation has the potential to have an impact on any of these challenges.


Problem areas


How do staff minimise contact and how do you ensure there’s enough space in ticket offices and staff rooms?

How do you manage rotas to minimise contact?

What considerations can be made around on-train training and assessments, with a focus on legal obligations, ensuring staff can continue training and development practices?



What is the best way to manage passenger flows, including using physical, built environment and digital interventions?

How do you manage the layout and location of station entrances and exits; what’s the best way to manage queues?  How do you avoid avoiding clustering, pinch points and bunching?

If you have retail units, how do you safely operate those?

How do you manage interchanges with other operators and modes of transport?

How can you safely manage and utilise the gate-line?



How do we ensure that all passengers, including those with reduced mobility, are able to travel with the required and safe levels of assistance?

How do you let people know about new arrangements?  In advance? At the station? On the train?

How do you inform passengers about social distancing on trains?

How do you cope with different train types, lengths and station/platform environments? What if you have to implement different approaches geographically?

How, alongside other authorities, can you reinforce and police any new measures?



How can you best clean frequently touched surfaces and provide hand sanitisers/hand washing facilities?

How do you keep toilets open and available to customers and achieve social distancing?

What effective treatments and pre-treatments could be used to mitigate the risk of hazards being present?


On-train cleaning

How do you keep cleaning staff safe? Are there effective pre-treatments that could be used? What are the best cleaning products to mitigate the risk?

How do you implement an enhanced cleaning regime for all trains with a focus on frequent touch points?


The solutions to these problems could come from many different sectors, not just transport – digital, chemical, behavioural insight, infrastructure or materials for example. UKRI has issued its funding call for ideas that address Covid-19 and mitigate the health, social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the outbreak. If you have a novel solution to any of the challenges above, or indeed any other rail-specific challenge, apply for funding here.

If you would like to discuss your innovation, please contact Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain.

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