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New Sheffield Hallam tech to de-ice platforms set to revolutionise British rail travel

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Innovative technology created by Sheffield Hallam University to automatically de-ice rail platforms to prevent commuters from slipping and illuminate platform edges for a better passenger experience has been awarded a share of £9.4m government funding.

The Department for Transport, with delivery partner Innovate UK, has awarded 25 pioneering projects a share of the fund as part of the 2020 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition, which encourages innovation in the rail industry.

Academics from Sheffield Hallam’s Materials and Engineering Research Centre (MERI) received just over £394,000 to develop electrically-heated concrete slabs that can melt ice and snow and also illuminate to provide passengers with guidance and information about their train.

The platform slabs will operate on a low voltage and will be automatically turned on when the temperature dips below freezing to help de-ice the surface and prevent passengers from slipping. The dynamic illumination will operate on a live data feed from incoming trains. The technology is due to be trialled at a UK station within the next nine months. 

Professor Fin O’Flaherty, from the University’s Centre for Infrastructure Management, said: “We are delighted to have received this funding to be able to innovatively redesign railway platform copers. It will not only improve the health and safety of railway staff and passengers during freezing weather, but also greatly improve the passenger experience by including dynamic intuitive illumination for better wayfinding.”

The development team also includes Yorkshire based companies Creative Heat Ltd. and Uniwarm Ltd. who will provide conductive polymer heating elements for de-icing, and railway coper manufacture Camel Precast. Illumination design and expertise will come from SIUT in Berlin, Germany whose Illuminating Orientation System will feature prominently in the project.

Now in its fourth year, the competition was open to organisations of all sizes and sectors whose technologies could help to create a greener, more cost-effective and customer-friendly railway with greater capacity.

The winning projects were announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday (17 June). Hesaid: “I am delighted to announce the winners of this year’s FOAK competition, which will support better, more environmentally friendly journeys. Crucially, these pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway, making their journeys simpler and easier.

“From clever technology on platforms to prevent icy surfaces, new ‘seat-switching’ apps and improved 5G wifi connections, harnessing innovation will be crucial to modernising the network and making our railways greener and cleaner, as we build beyond coronavirus (COVID-19) and look to the future.”

Ian Campbell, executive chair of Innovate UK, said:“These high-quality projects illustrate the appetite of UK organisations to develop new and exciting innovations for rail transport that improve customers’ user experience, optimise railway efficiency, and are environmentally sustainable.”

For press information: Jo Beattiein the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 07772906726 or email