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Winners of the ESA/EIT Space For Rail Competition

Patrick McLoughlin, UK Secretary of State for Transport, has announced, during a speech at RailLive 2014, the largest outdoor rail event in the UK, that two prizes of €50,000 have been awarded in the Space for Rail competition. Launched in October 2013, the competition was initiated and co-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK rail industry’s Enabling Innovation Team (EIT) with support of the Satellite Applications Catapult and the  UK Technology Strategy Board. Prizes will be used to fund two feasibility studies as part of ESA’s Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) programme.

The rail industry faces a challenge to be able to technically deliver a railway with more capacity and customer satisfaction but for less cost and carbon. To support this, the FutureRailway team is working with a range of partners to help de-risk business solutions and technologies by helping move them from research through prototype to demonstration and eventual implementation.

The Space for Rail prize competition sought outline proposals to develop services for the UK rail industry involving two or more satellite-based systems, such as communications, navigation and/or remote sensing, which would be integrated with conventional non-space systems. The aim is to develop solutions that either meet rail industry current challenges and needs which cannot otherwise be fulfilled, or improve upon existing solutions.

The two winners are:

1. University of Birmingham (UK) with Avanti Communications Ltd (UK) – Identification of Physical Railway Line Blockages in Support of Inspection and Recovery Operations

The proposed activity concerns the development of a service concept that provides cost effective, 24/7 identification of physical line blockages due to poor weather conditions. The study seeks to address two main challenges: a) Reliable use of satellite navigation signals and earth located antennae to detect  objects or infrastructure failures serious enough to block a railway line. b) Providing reliable communications and accompanying processes to enable robust decision making and effective targeting of resources for necessary response actions when line blockages are detected.

 2. VTOL Technologies Ltd. (UK) – Railway Inspection Supported by Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)

The proposed integrated solution targets an RPAS aerial inspection capability specifically designed to meet the requirements of the UK rail industry, with inspection operations and inspection routes approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. In support of this, the study will investigate whether the deployment of RPAS within the UK rail industry is technically feasible and could deliver substantial cost and process benefits for railway inspection and maintenance operations.

Following coordination between FutureRailway, the UK Technology Strategy Board and ESA’s IAP programme, the two winners of the UK Space for Rail Prize have been invited to submit full proposals for  feasibility studies to ESA. The activities, co-funded by ESA and FutureRailway, are anticipated to commence towards the end of 2014. Upon successful completion, the winners could use this as a stepping stone to the initiation of a larger-scale demonstration project.

The Space for Rail competition complements a portfolio of on-going activities by the ESA IAP programme in the rail sector. For more information, see:



16 June 2014
Last updated at 26 June 2014 - 14:08