SBRI Competition rail demonstrations: first of a kind 2021

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £9 million inclusive of VAT, to develop demonstrators that increase customers’ confidence and enhance experience, deliver a railway that is easy to use, offer low emissions and a greener railway.

Opportunity Details


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Project costs can be between £50,000 and £400,000, inclusive of VAT. Successful projects will be 100% funded.



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The aim of this competition is to demonstrate innovations to stakeholders and railway customers in a representative railway environment.

This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the Department for Transport (DfT).

This competition is part of a larger ‘first of a kind’ demonstrator initiative, on behalf of DfT, to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable technologies to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system. This competition is the fifth in the first of a kind portfolio.

For more information on the background and scope of the competition please register and attend the Rail Innovation Exhibition 2021. Details of the competition will be covered in the ‘Railway Innovation Exhibition Introduction’ session at 10am on 9 February 2021. A recording of the briefing will be made available.

Any adoption and implementation of a solution from this competition would be subject of a separate, possible competitive, procurement exercise. This competition does not cover the purchase of any solution.

Projects are expected to start by 1 July 2021, must end by 31 March 2022 and can last up to 9 months. This project end date is fixed and non-negotiable.

To lead a project, you must:

  • be an organisation of any size registered in the UK, EU, or EEA
  • carry out your project work in the UK

Applicants are welcome from all sectors. You can work alone or with other organisations as subcontractors.

Your project must involve:

  • an owner of railway assets (for example stations, rolling stock or infrastructure)
  • an experienced railway organisation
  • a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer

These criteria can be met by a single organisation or up to three.

You must also:

  • include a potential integration partner
  • have a letter of support from a potential customer organisation

We welcome projects that include either an:

  • innovative start-up supply company that is already delivering in another sector
  • organisation with railway expertise, such as train operating companies, a freight operator, rolling stock manufacturers or operators and infrastructure owners

If you are awarded a contract, you will be required to exhibit your project at the 2022 Innovate UK annual rail exhibition. We will provide the space and advise you of any technology you need to organise. You will also be able to lease equipment from the venue through us. The date and location of the event will be announced on the KTN website in December 2021. This may be a live or on-line event.

A total of up to £9 million, inclusive of VAT, is allocated to this competition. Successful projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to research and development services, including solution exploration and design.

Your project must create a highly interactive and innovative demonstrator. This should be in an environment where railway customers and industry representatives can witness the product as a compelling business proposition.

Example environments can include:

  • within a railway station
  • in rolling stock
  • on railway infrastructure
  • in the environment close to the railway

Your project must:

  • gather evidence about integration challenges and explain how you will de-risk the integration
  • demonstrate to railway stakeholders and customers the commercial benefits of the solution
  • make taking up technologies less risky and faster
  • be pre-commercial
  • collect customer and performance feedback
  • provide a business case for using the solution in a commercial environment
  • consider the priorities of current and future franchises

You must provide relevant proofs, showing your innovation can attract customers, get insurance, supply warranties, and attract financing.

Your project must focus one of the following themes:

Theme 1: Increasing customers’ confidence and enhancing their experience

Theme 2: Easy to use for all

Theme 3: Low emissions and a greener railway

Full details of each theme can be found here.

A short briefing was held online on 1st February: view the recording here.

We understand it may be a challenge to access railway assets and get permission to make modifications. We expect you to develop your own relationships with railway asset owners.

To help you to build your consortium we recommend you:


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