University of Birmingham awarded government rail innovation grant

The University of Birmingham, one of the UK’s largest education and research institutions, has been awarded funding under the UK government Department for Transport “Technology Research Innovation Grant Scheme”. The grant will help support a new partnership between the university of Birmingham and RazorSecure, a company specialising in railway systems cyber security. The collaboration intends to deliver the means for safe and reliable digital maintenance for passenger train operators.

The grant scheme supports a number of initiatives around the country, but this is the only award specific to rail rolling stock maintenance. The security of remote monitoring and maintenance has never been more important. Birmingham, an established centre for railway technology, was always likely to find a place within the scheme. The south coast resort town of Bournemouth though – the head quarters of RazorSecure – is a less prominent location in the railway technical contact book.

Resisting cyber-attack

The joint project will design solutions to the challenges of maintaining safety while carrying out ‘digital maintenance’ – remote examination and software upgrades. Researchers will investigate how access to maintenance systems can be digitally controlled, ensuring they are carried out by authorised personnel at appointed times. “The technologies we are designing will give train operators vital controls over maintenance activities, improving safety and making sure of compliance with cyber security legislation”, said Doctor Richard Thomas, an expert in railway cyber security at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education.

Condition monitoring covers a multitude of disciplines (University of Birmingham)

Keeping remote monitoring secure may be a twenty-first century problem, but very much a problem in need of resolving, say the experts. “Ensuring maintenance is only carried out on isolated systems, reduces the likelihood of a cyber-attack”, said Thomas. “Implementing these technologies will have the added benefit of reducing the time needed for maintenance to be carried out.”

Cyber security legislation

“RazorSecure’s experience, supporting operators such as Northern Trains, has given us a unique perspective on the importance of digital maintenance in ensuring safe and secure operations”, explained Doctor Emma Taylor, the head of digital safety at RazorSecure. “With support across the passenger and freight sectors, including from Rail Freight Group (industry representative body) and freight operator DB Cargo, we are pleased to be able to drive forward industry-wide capabilities and deployments.”

Hard at work on the railways and not a track in sight (University of Birmingham)

The technologies being designed should give train operators netter controls over maintenance activities, improving safety and making sure of compliance with cyber security legislation, added doctor Thomas.

Funding proof of concept development

The programme was awarded a Transport Research and Innovation Grant funded by the UK government’s Department for Transport in partnership with Connected Places Catapult. The grants are designed to support innovative ideas or concepts that facilitate a better transport system by bridging the early stage, proof of concept funding gap.

At this stage of the innovation pipeline, investments can help de-risk the development of novel technology, supporting the most promising and beneficial products as they launch within their intended markets. They also help to build links between innovators and officials in a safe way, benefiting both and uncovering new leaders as well as beneficial innovation.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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