SMEs are being encouraged to enter a £4 million contest to develop a new signalling system for the UK rail network.

The COMbined Positioning Alternative Signalling System (COMPASS) competition refers to a system that is being developed to enable trains to continue to move when the current signal system fails. It will also provide signallers with an alternative and more accurate view of a train's position, speed and direction of travel.

Railway signal red light
Startups are being asked to design railway signalling systems for the future © iStock/cosmonaut

The competition aims to find successful applicants to carry out an initial feasibility study to investigate the technical and commercial viability of their proposed solutions. These feasibility studies will be followed by further in-depth system integration and test facility (SI&TF) evaluations, judged by a panel of industry experts, including representatives from train operating companies (TOCs) and Network Rail.

FutureRailway, the organisation behind the contest, says it would like proposals from teams and consortia that may include innovators, engineers and technical specialists across sectors including logistics and transportation, defence and security, tracking and positioning and communications. This includes those with experience of systems and data integration, signalling systems, train positioning and satellite technology.

The contest is also being promoted by the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board), which want smaller firms to enter the competition.