Connected Places Catapult, the UK’s innovation accelerator for cities, transport, and place leadership, and Network Rail, has recently announced that Bristol’s iconic train station will be hosting trials of innovative passenger technologies. This multi-million pound programme will turn Bristol Temple Meads into the UK’s first ‘Station Innovation Zone’, trialling new technologies designed to upgrade passengers’ experience.

The programme is selecting startups aiming to test new ways to improve various aspects of the passenger experience. This ranges from making journeys smoother with smarter ticketing to making stations more accessible with wayfinding apps; from using AI to improve people flow to designing better facilities using human-centred design principles.

The five-year programme will pioneer the approach and plans are in place to roll out the model to other stations as it succeeds. Interested startups have until 13 November to apply to take part.

Using tech to enhance the passenger experience

Ahead of this exciting new partnership, Francis McGarry, Network Rail Wales & Western region Investment Director tells us, “We’re delighted to be partnering with Connected Places Catapult on this new programme which will provide SMEs with crucial funding opportunities and Network Rail with new, innovative ideas on how to further enhance the experience of our passengers.

“We are committed to developing Bristol Temple Meads into a world class transport hub for the benefit of our passengers, the city of Bristol, and the wider West of England region, so it is fitting Bristol Temple Meads has been chosen as the UK’s first Station Innovation Zone.”

To this Nicola Yates OBE, CEO at Connected Places Catapult, adds, “Innovation is tough in any industry and rail is especially hard because of the number of assessments and permissions required. The net effect is that it takes too much time and costs too much for most small businesses to engage.

“Partnering with Network Rail to create a multi-year Station Innovation Zone in Bristol’s vibrant Temple Quarter will enable us to support numerous small companies in navigating these challenges and benefit passengers’ experience of the station.”

Applications are now open for startups with ideas that could be trialled in the Station Innovation Zone.The programme’s vision is to use trials to pave the way towards the station of the future. Catapult plans to achieve this by working with innovators to develop solutions that improve a passenger’s experience when travelling through stations and that enable more efficient, safer use of rail assets.

Connected Places Catapult is looking for up to 10 innovators with technology, products or services which can improve passenger experience when travelling through stations. The competition is open to innovators that can help address any of the 3 challenge areas:

  • Safe Station – How might we enhance safety at the station through improved station operations?
  • Seamless Station – How might we improve the provision of customer information, by tailoring it to passengers’ needs and adapting it at times of disruption?
  • Social Station – How might the station be a great place to spend time for passengers and local communities, whilst functioning as a transport hub?

Selected innovators will receive support in two phases. In the first phase, the innovators will be awarded funds (£2k per innovator) to conduct a feasibility study which examines the suitability of their solution for trialling in a rail station environment. Connected Places Catapult will provide support to enable these innovators to write a proposal for testing their solution in a live environment.

In the second phase, up to 3 of these innovators will then be granted further funding to trial their solution in a national rail station, granting the opportunity to measure their effect on the challenge, demonstrate impact and build the commercial case needed to scale their solution.

All aboard the investment funnel

This announcement of the Station Innovation Zone follows the Government’s levelling-up announcement of £95m for the Bristol Temple Quarter regeneration programme and the Catapult funding will complement the ongoing revitalisation of the station. Around £60m of the funding from Government will enable improvements in and around Bristol Temple Meads Station, including three new entrances to the station, as well as infrastructure works and new public spaces nearby.

Catapult is directing millions of pounds of Innovate UK funding into the programme. Indro Mukerjee, CEO, Innovate UK comments on this, “Innovate UK is strongly committed to partnerships to deliver future transport systems that are connected, accessible, sustainable, and safe. So, we see this partnership between our Connected Places Catapult and Network Rail as an important step to support the delivery of passenger technology for the future.”

“Temple Meads is at the heart of Temple Quarter, and the innovation funding from the Catapult, combined with recent funding of £95million Bristol secured from Government, matches our commitment to making Temple Meads and its surrounding area a world-class gateway to the city region,” says Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol. “This is an exciting new chapter for Brunel’s iconic train station as we prepare for new sustainable homes, quality jobs and inclusive opportunities in Bristol.”

The University of Bristol is developing its presence in Temple Quarter near the station, recently opening the Temple Quarter Research Hub, housing the Bristol Digital Futures Institute with a large scale data-center and a sector agnostic digital twin. 

[Image credits: Network Rail]