Innovations helping to attract passengers back post-Coronavirus
For our first ‘Innovation of the Month’, we take a look at some of the innovations which are enabling the railways to operate safely during Coronavirus and will help passengers return post-pandemic. Needless to say, ensuring customer safety and re-building confidence in public transport will be absolutely critical for the future of the rail sector. 

Given the interminable feel of the pandemic, as it continues to disrupt our daily lives, this aims to be a positive feature on the work going on in our sector. So, if you will forgive us for sharing more Coronavirus-related content, we wanted to showcase several exciting innovations and products which our fantastic members have been working on – ranging from digital solutions in stations, to air filtration solutions, to anti-microbial materials!
First, passing through the station.  
Siemens Mobility is working across the piece to help ensure rail travel is safe for passengers during Coronavirus. This covers a variety of areas, from journey planning, entering and exiting stations, on-board travel and then to data capture and feedback. 
A key area for customer safety, which will be at the forefront of transport planners’ minds, will be passenger numbers and interactions at stations. This has driven Siemens Mobility’s work to develop its Digital Station Manager solutions, to ‘help restore confidence in the railway after Covid-19’ according to the company. 

One element of this is Siemen’s Digital Wayfinding, which provides bespoke information to help guide passengers safely into, through and out of the station.
Siemens emphasises that it can integrate with Siemens’ existing HAFAS app system – used on the Deutsche Bahn as well as other UK travel companies – and provide information on mobile apps before the passenger’s arrival at the station, as well as synchronise with the station displays for station-specific information. 

The technology has already been trialled at London’s Canning Town station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and, according to Siemens Mobility, can be deployed across different stations and interfaced with existing station infrastructure. 

Technical details aside, digital tools such as this will be vital in ensuring passengers can interact safely at stations and be confident they receive all the important information they need. This can help people make informed choices about when to travel, and how best to use their rail network.

Siemens Mobility has a host of other technologies they are continuing to roll out – more than we would be able to cover here. Their Airgate contactless ticketing for example looks particularly interesting!
Next, we move on-board the train, so to speak, to look at another key Coronavirus challenge for the rail industry. 
Many trains of course have good air filtration and purification systems and the risk of transmission of Coronavirus on trains is very low. Yet it is still incumbent on the industry to continue to take steps to limit the low residual risk to passenger health during a journey and ensure the highest air quality.
Against this backdrop, Knorr-Bremse has developed several innovative solutions to improve hygiene standards on-board. 

One example from their portfolio is the new Long-Life HVAC Filtration Solution, which includes a range of new long-life passive and long-life active filters. According to the company, these filters typically last four times longer than standard G4 filters, arrest particles down to 2.5 microns and reduce the cost and time spent replacing the filter elements. As this can directly replace current products with minimal modification, it can have a real impact on the travelling public with little outlay or delay. 

Improved air filtration systems and providing clean air for passengers will be vital in keeping customers safe, whilst also building back the confidence of passengers to return to the network when restrictions ease.
And last, but by no means least, we want to highlight an innovative solution which is in the process of being developed, or is on track, if you will.
It is probably fair to say that train passengers have never been (or at least not in my lifetime) more aware of germs on surfaces on public transport. The prospect of standing on trains and trams holding onto grab-poles may be an unappealing concept for many people at this moment in time. Evidently, this presents a real challenge for public transport operators and suppliers alike. 
 [Image: Painted grab poles made of thermoplastic glass or carbon.] 

One approach to address this is being led by Composite Braiding. The SME has been pioneering innovative grab-poles made from (yep, you guessed it!) a composite material with an embedded anti-microbial property. Demonstrating his technical know-how, Composite Braiding’s Steve Barbour explains by using “in-mould coating impregnation and fibre commingling techniques, anti-microbial particles will be incorporated into the composite rails during the moulding process”.    

These will be developed in partnership with researchers at WMG from the University of Warwick, Transport Design International (TDI), anti-microbial additive developers BioCote and Promethean Particles and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The project AMICABLE, which received a £480,000 award from Innovate UK’s Smart Grant scheme, aims to manufacture the first poles in 2021. 

For this innovation to have a real impact across the industry, it is fair to say that price and applicability will be key issues. On this point, the group has said that it aims to supply the poles at a competitive price and that they will be retrofittable to current trains. The poles will also be around a third of the weight of conventional steel poles, helping improve fuel efficiency and reduce the carbon-cost of vehicle manufacturing. Interestingly, given they are made from ‘thermoplastic composite’ they are also recyclable. 

Despite the obvious challenges posed by Coronavirus, it is clear the rail supply community is working hard to meet these head-on. It is innovations and products such as these which will go a long way to ensuring passenger safety and restoring public confidence in our railways post-pandemic. 

Have your innovation featured!

Each month’s edition will promote a specific innovation or area showcasing the innovative work of the industry and analysing how this will impact the UK’s railways. 

How to get involved?

February's edition will look at Accessibility - highlighting products and leaders working to make the railways accessible for everyone.  

We are asking for your ideas and content on a recent innovative product or solution which you have produced or worked on, around the above theme. We welcome any content – whether press notices, written content, brochure and leaflets, visual content or social media collateral, such as explainer videos, which you might wish to share.

To submit content, or if you have any feedback, please email alexis.king@riagb.org.uk

Register for the Rail Innovation Exhibition 2021

Featuring RIA’s Unlocking Innovation Programme
9 - 12 February 2021, Online

This event will be a showcase of the best in rail innovation brought to you by Innovate UK, the Department for Transport (DfT), KTN, and the Railway Industry Association (RIA), in partnership with UKRRIN and Network Rail. 

The exhibition will also feature RIA’s next Unlocking Innovation series - titled ‘Building Back Better’ - which will look at the theme in this feature and how we can build a more accessible railway. 
Click here to Register and find out more

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