The UK government has allocated over £5 million in funding to enhance the modernisation, efficiency, and convenience of rail journeys for passengers. This significant investment is distributed among 17 projects, all leveraging cutting-edge technologies to improve accessibility across the country’s railways.
Notably, this year’s ‘First of a Kind’ competition has seen an unprecedented focus on accessibility initiatives, with more projects in this category receiving funding than ever before.
One of the developments emerging from this funding is the potential integration of AI technology into train tickers, enabling live staff announcements. This innovation aims to cater to passengers with hearing impairments, ensuring they do not miss crucial updates during their journeys.
As part of the ‘2023 First of a Kind’ competition, the UK government is announcing 17 projects, with six specifically focused on improving accessibility. Collaborating with Innovate UK, the government is allocating £5.3 million in funding for various accessibility initiatives. Among these projects are strategically placed QR codes at stations that enable train managers to input essential information on platform changes and service alterations, serving as a database for accessible information.
Another initiative involves an online journey planner providing real-time information on key facilities, such as accessible toilets, throughout a passenger’s journey. Additionally, kiosk systems, similar to bus stop buttons, will be installed on rural train platforms to assist passengers, particularly those with mobility needs, in flagging down trains.
This marks the seventh round of First of a Kind funding, aiming to drive efficiency, modernize infrastructure, and enhance the overall rail experience for passengers. The funding will support these projects through development phases, including real trials on railways in the coming months, increasing the likelihood of their long-term implementation across the network.
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’s leaves on the line – a problem which causes delays across the network, DreamSuite, a new design for UK Sleeper Services, and new technology that will allow train timetables to rapidly update during extreme weather events so people are kept up to date.
Over the past six 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, a train-mounted camera able to identify and address lineside maintenance issues, and Transreport’s technology enabling 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, stated: “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.”