SBRI Press Release

Press Release: UK rail SME MoniRail and partners announced as winners of the SBRI: Quantum Catalyst Fund (Phase 2)

Award win will enable MoniRail and its partners Transport for London (TfL), Imperial College London, University of Sussex, University of Birmingham, PA Consulting, QinetiQ, and Unipart, to develop a Quantum-based navigation system for the railways to address the issues arising from the loss of satellite signal in tunnels.

12th February 2024

UK rail SME MoniRail have been awarded a prestigious SBRI: Quantum Catalyst Fund (Phase 2) contract, funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and Innovate UK.

The significant funding will enable MoniRail to build upon its work with partners Transport for London (TfL), Imperial College London, University of Sussex, University of Birmingham, PA Consulting, QinetiQ, and Unipart, to develop a Quantum-based navigation system for railways to address the issues arising from the loss of satellite signal in tunnels.

Understanding train-position in rail networks to high degrees of accuracy is critical for rail infrastructure monitoring, measurement, and maintenance. This is one of the biggest expenses of the railway, with over £2bn per year invested in infrastructure maintenance.

The proposed system from the team led by MoniRail will combine the technologies and knowledge from all partner organisations, to enhance positioning accuracy without relying on expensive infrastructure-based solutions and focus on demonstrating the condition-based maintenance use-case.

MoniRail’s approach is to use a train as a sensor to frequently monitor track. This, coupled with precise positioning, provides a more accurate understanding of a rail network’s condition. Using the data captured by in service vehicles enhances the ability to predict when necessary intervention is required.

Peter Ainsworth, CEO at MoniRail, commented: “It is fantastic to be able to share the news of our success in the SBRI Quantum Catalyst Fund. As a University of Birmingham spin-out, we always endeavour to work closely with our peers across the industry and firmly believe that collaboration is key to developing new solutions which can benefit the whole railway.

“This funding win will help our relationships and partnerships to produce significant advances in the area of positioning accuracy and enhance our track monitoring solution, through the creation of groundbreaking technology.”

“Working with our partners we will harness quantum sensors to measure parameters such as gravity, time, magnetic fields, and acceleration. This will enable us to explore how we can achieve improved levels of positional accuracy which are critical for both civilian and military needs,” Dr Jamie Vovrosh, Quantum Lead at QinetiQ, explained.

Dr Colin Smith McGloin, Product and Innovation Director at Unipart said: “Unipart is delighted to be the technology partner for this project, supporting advancements in railway navigation. We are excited to begin our journey in developing a UK supply chain for the manufacture of quantum sensors.”

Professor Paul Plummer, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education at the University of Birmingham, commented: “It is exciting to see what bringing together academia and industry can do for the transport sector and the economy as a whole. Access to technological developments, coupled with evidence-backed research and industry know-how, provide a pathway for SMEs like MoniRail to make a difference and shape the future of transportation.”

Timothy Mangozza, Technology Expert at PA Consulting, shared: “A quantum-based navigation system for railways has great potential in the industry. PA Consulting is delighted to be partnering with academia and industry on this project, bringing our specialised knowledge of quantum, engineering, and innovation to bring value to the transport sector.”

Rail experts and University of Birmingham spin-out, MoniRail offers innovative remote condition monitoring systems and data consultancy, that cater to efficient and seamless infrastructure maintenance solutions. They already provide a solution for monitoring the condition and degradation of railway track from on-board operational passenger and freight trains.

Their success in this funding competition will allow them to collaborate with other industry leaders, furthering their work in this area with a particular focus on train positioning without the use of satellites.


Notes to Editors:

Media information:

For further information, images or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Emma Lever, Senior Communications Manager, Hey Me


Telephone: +44 7931 843735

Project images can be accessed here:

About MoniRail:

With over 50 years of combined rail experience, MoniRail is a results driven team of industry experts dedicated to delivering non-intrusive track monitoring solutions, through comprehensive knowledge of the infrastructure and its pitfalls.

The software algorithm developed by MoniRail, a University of Birmingham spin out, can interpret data from multiple sources supplying reproduceable information to those who need it. As a reliable source of information gathering, the MoniRail solution is based on 20 years of sound research from the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE).


About the project (MoniRail)

The project will create a highly accurate Quantum Inertial Navigation System (QINS) based on quantum sensors developed in world-leading research laboratories from Imperial College London and the University of Sussex.

Guided by rail systems engineering expertise from the University of Birmingham and PA Consulting, quantum sensors will be integrated into MoniRail’s existing train monitoring system, creating an innovative GNSS-free navigation solution. This will be coupled with positioning and navigation experts QinetiQ and manufacturing specialists, Unipart, to deliver a project that will advance the commercialisation of the technology significantly.

This system will be tested on London Underground’s live rail network to demonstrate the value of accurate navigation. Trial results will guide the development of the commercialisation roadmap to address applications in Condition Based Monitoring (CBM) and Train Control and Signalling Systems. These use cases have an accessible market of several billions of pounds in the UK and favourable prospects for export to Europe and further abroad.

About the project (University of Sussex)

Physicists from the University of Sussex Quantum Systems and Devices research group will be developing optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs) for the quantum-based railway navigation system.

OPMs are sophisticated quantum devices used to measure magnetic fields with high precision and accuracy. Instead of traditional methods that rely on electrical currents, OPMs utilise laser light to manipulate the quantum properties of certain materials to infer the strength and direction of the magnetic field. When exposed to the laser, these atoms become polarised, meaning their magnetic moments align and interact with the external magnetic field being measured.

Subsequent detection of changes in the light absorption of these polarised atoms allows for accurate determination of the magnetic field strength and direction.

At the University of Sussex, we specialise in the development of arrays of OPMs for magnetic gradiometry measurements.

This entails handling multiple sensors arranged in a specific configuration to detect variations in magnetic field strength across space. In a gradiometry configuration, an array of OPM sensors can greatly enhance the sensitivity and accuracy of magnetic field measurements.

About the project (Imperial College London)

The team at Imperial College London specialises in the development of quantum sensors for inertial navigation. These devices use atom interferometry to make highly accurate acceleration measurements that exhibit a lower drift than classical accelerometers.

Their latest sensor has been developed into a transportable form-factor, allowing it to be tested outside of the laboratory in a variety of real-world environments.

About the project (University of Birmingham)

Our key role in this pioneering project will be to integrate Quantum Technology (QT) systems from Imperial College London and the University of Sussex with MoniRail’s advanced sensors.

This collaboration is set to establish a leading data fusion centre, designed to deliver superior accuracy and reliability for navigation systems, overcoming the unique challenges presented by tunnel environments.

In addition to this, the University of Birmingham will lead the crucial testing and assessment efforts, aiming to progress the project’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL) from 3 to 6 for rail environment. This phase underscores our expertise in refining and advancing technological innovations, while also highlighting our commitment to guiding future enhancements within the rail sector.

About the project (PA Consulting)

PA Consulting has a diverse team of quantum experts, scientists, and engineers, whose innovative thinking and expertise in breakthrough technologies will be key to advancing the quantum-based navigation system.

Taking a collaborative approach, we hope to play an important role in the productisation of the solution, ensuring the seamless adaptation of sensors to meet the unique demands of the railway environment.

Meticulous attention to detail is needed to guarantee that the sensors maintain the exceptional performance demonstrated in laboratory environments. Achieving this will pave the way for transformative advancements in the technology roadmap.

About the project (QinetiQ)

QinetiQ is an integrated global defence and security company focused on mission-led innovation. As part of this project, the team at QinetiQ will be investigating the optimal methods to incorporate measurements from the optically pumped magnetometer, developed by the University of Sussex, into a navigation system.