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HS2 announces First of a Kind rail systems competition winners: Chiltern Tunnel, January 2023
HS2 announces First of a Kind rail systems competition winners: Chiltern Tunnel, January 2023

HS2 announces First of a Kind rail systems competition winners

  • Four winning SMEs go forward to development phase
  • Competition marks preparation for HS2 programme transition to rail systems installation phase

Innovations to accelerate track laying, rail welding, and automate cable installation are among technologies aiming to be deployed during delivery of Britain’s new high speed railway after four companies behind them were selected as part of a government rail innovation competition.

The Department for Transport’s First of a Kind initiative aims to improve cost efficiency and increase value for money in the railway sector.

The HS2 component of the competition focused on driving economies in delivery of the railway’s rail systems, which includes rails, track, signalling and electrics.

With the focus on driving efficiencies through automation and using new digitally-based methods to reduce the time taken to install the line’s infrastructure, HS2 Ltd is investing over £650,000 in the four winning entrants to progress to competition’s six-month development stage.

HS2 Ltd estimates that the technology could deliver economies of over £4million to the project.

First of a Kind judges selected Mirage Ltd. The Stoke on Trent-based company put forward advanced induction heating technology, which is safer, stronger, and faster than traditional rail welding. In addition the new process offers greater fatigue resistance.

HS2 will be a highly reliable railway underpinned by its ERTMS* signalling system. Sensors developed by London firm, Mobibiz Ltd, will be attached to the ERTMS cabling to provide future maintenance teams with a web-based GIS mapping tool to illustrate its exact location, which will deliver maintenance cost savings.

Kent’s I3D Robotics secured a place on First of a Kind’s six month tech proving programme with its tunnel cable installing robot, which combines efficient automation with software that automatically assures its installation work. The competition’s judges noted that the “…  benefits to HS2 are clearly identified, with further efficiencies highly likely.”

To help underpin HS2’s reliability it will be built with highly durable slab track, instead of traditional ballast. Made off site and installed at multiple locations along the line’s route, the process of fixing into place each unit requires very high precision levels.

The judging panel also awarded a place on the innovation programme’s development stage to Geokod Rail’s ‘Panel Rectification System’. Through its involvement in slab track laying programmes in mainland Europe, the Czech firm has developed technology to heighten procession – and potentially cut by up to five minutes – of installing each of the railway’s 70,000 plus slab track panels between London and the West Midlands. 

Speaking as the winning four were announced, HS2 Ltd senior innovation manger Jon Kelly said:

“HS2’s involvement in this year's First of a Kind competition marks to start of the programme’s preparations to pivot towards its rail systems phase. This will be a major stage in development of the new high speed railway.

“This why I am extremely pleased to welcome four innovative firms whose solutions we hope will make significant contributions to driving productivity growth and efficiency in the rail systems sector to the benefit of both HS2 and the wider rail industry.”


*European Rail Traffic Management System


Notes to editors: 

  • HS2 is Britain’s new high-speed rail line. Once complete, it will almost halve the journey time between London Euston and Birmingham to just 49 minutes, with trains running north via the existing rail network to destinations such as Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.


  • Construction of the new line, due to open between 2029 and 2033, is already at an advanced stage. Work has started on two-thirds of HS2’s viaducts and almost half of bridges, while more than a third of tunnelling is already complete.


  • HS2 is a catalyst for economic growth by fuelling redevelopment around our major new stations in London and the West Midlands – opening employment, housing and leisure opportunities. 


  • HS2 is the most effective long-term solution to capacity constraints on the congested southern end of the West Coast Main Line, almost doubling capacity to up to 250,000 seats per day. It will free up space on the existing line for more freight and local services. 


  • The line is being built to the highest engineering standards, with real-time sensors embedded into the infrastructure to prevent failure, creating a new benchmark for punctuality and reliability. 


  • Passengers will benefit from an unrivalled 21st century journey experience on HS2’s British-built trains, including seamless mobile coverage, ensuring uninterrupted streaming and calls along the entire route. 


  • All HS2 trains will be powered with zero carbon electricity from day one of operation and we are working to significantly reduce the amount of embedded carbon in construction. 


  • HS2’s construction is supporting jobs right across the country. Over 3,200 UK-based businesses are in our supply chain and more than 30,000 people are helping to deliver our construction programme. 


  • HS2 is delivering the country’s largest environment programme, planting seven million trees and shrubs over an area of 33 square kilometres – an increase of around 30% compared with the status quo.


  • Download a range of images showing construction progress on site and how our railway will look when complete. (credit: HS2 Ltd). 

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