London railway from above

UK First of a Kind competition sees self charging and speedy logistics among winners

London railway from above

Self-charging battery trains could make their way onto Britain’s railways, transforming the future of transport after receiving government funding, as part of the First of a Kind 2022 competition. The ‘FOAK’ awards are already on track to support the pioneering Varamis Rail project, which is already revolutionising parcel delivery with former passenger electric multiple units, working a route between Birmingham and Glasgow.

Top innovators and inventors have won prize money to bring their innovations to life, as part of the First of a Kind 2022 competition. This year’s competition, in partnership with Innovate UK, focused on new concepts that will transform rail travel for passengers and decarbonising the network. FOAK 2022 saw 24 innovators receive a share of more than five million pounds (5.98 million euro) with grants of up to 400,000 pounds (476,000 euros) each.

Revolutionise our railways

From technology to make the UK railways greener than ever before, to renewable energy research, and operational innovation, this year’s successful First of a Kind bidders aim to revolutionise the future of railway operations for generations to come. The UK government FOAK scheme has uncovered innovation in a number of areas already. This year’s intake has a high emphasis on sustainability and modal shift, including removing harmful emissions from train exhausts, and research into powering the railways with renewable energy,

“The UK has a long history of leading the way in railway innovation and the First of a Kind competition is getting the great brains of today to create the trains of tomorrow”, said Mark Harper the current Transport Secretary. “We are breathing life into ideas that will revolutionise our railways and make them greener than ever before. This is just the beginning to support British innovation and create a cutting edge, green rail industry that delivers even more benefits for passengers and freight.”

Revolutionising parcel delivery

Winner Varamis Rail has already begun daily parcels services between Birmingham International and Mossend, near Glasgow. The company has championed the repurposing of redundant passenger rolling stock – specifically British Railways Engineering built 1980s electric multiple units. The stock is mechanically reliable, but does not meet modern passenger regulations. The company is working closely with logistics partners, such as DHL and Fedex. “Varamis are revolutionising parcel delivery in the UK by repurposing former passenger carriages and putting rail right at the heart of the online shopping boom to create high-speed, non-letter delivery services”, said a government statement.

Varamis Rail parcels train with owner Phil Read standing in front
First of a Kind winner, the Varamis Express with the founder Phil Read and driver (Image Varamis Rail)

Echion Technologies, another successful bidder, is developing batteries that will charge from overhead wires. The concept is to use existing installed overhead power infrastructure to supply specially developed charging and battery packs. The intention is to use that charge to ‘leapfrog’ across unelectrified section of track and, effectively, create self-charging trains. The advantages are most keenly appreciated by freight operators, who are restricted from using electric traction where routes are not fully wired.

Over 100 transformative projects

“The innovations funded through this competition will help to deliver a greener, lower-emissions railway carrying increasingly higher proportions of the UK’s freight”, said Mike Biddle, Executive Director for Net Zero at Innovate UK, who are delivering the FOAK programme on behalf of the government’s Department for Transport. Winners with a track record of success will have the opportunity to progress for further funding next year as projects move from concepts to realisation.

The First of a Kind competition has already helped launch over 100 projects that are having a transformative effect across the entire industry. Previous winners have included Riding Sunbeams, which power railways with sunlight, and 4Silence’s sound bending walls which cancel out noise pollution from the railway. “Companies from all over the UK have demonstrated the quality of their innovations in previous rounds of this scheme”, said a government statement. “Now we will support even more innovations to help deliver a greener railway that benefits passengers, employees and customers for rail freight.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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