TRIG funding triggers 3Squared’s freight PathPlanner project

Dawn breaking over a rail yard
Image: PxHere.

Railway technology specialists 3Squared, headquartered in Sheffield, have put to good use their award from the UK Government-backed Transport Research and Innovation Grants (TRIG) programme. The recently concluded round of applications, which closed last week, was instrumental in implementing their advancing rail freight operations PathPlanner system.

In response to the challenge of under-utilised freight trains, 3Squared developed PathPlanner, a digital solution designed to furnish rail freight operators with intermodal loads for intermodal trains. The system integrates with port operators and logistics firms, hooking them into open slots on scheduled trains. The additional funding from the TRIG programme helped get the programme from the drawing board to the tracks. More importantly, it’s helping to optimise container bookings and make better use of existing capacity and infrastructure.

Ten-year initiative proves concepts work

There are dozens of rail industry-related stories from the TRIG programme. 3Squared’s PathPlanner is among the most high-profile and has the most potential to shake up the marketplace. 3Squared secured a 100,000 pound (117,000 euros) grant two years ago from the TRIG ‘Future of Freight’ challenge theme. They embarked on a proof of concept implementation. PathPlanner integrates seven years of historical data with real-time information and a machine-learning algorithm. This amalgamation identifies rail paths with spare capacity, enabling companies with containers to move to bid for available slots.

The TRIG programme is funded by the UK Department for Transport. It was an initiative introduced early in the tenure of the currently ruling Conservative Party. An agency, Connected Places Catapult, delivers the project. Under the TRIG grant, 3Squared expanded the capabilities of the proof-of-concept solution, incorporating additional data feeds to make visible the spare capacity on trains with empty wagons. This enhancement allows for late-notice bids for containers to be added at short notice, addressing the challenge of underutilisation.

Operators lose out from a half-empty freight train

“Access to the railway is difficult”, admitted Jason Durk, who has three decades of railway industry experience and is a key figure at 3Squared. “Visibility of what the railway can offer is a significant problem and underpins a view among the supply chain that rail is difficult to navigate. This causes issues around ports, and operators lose out every time a freight train leaves half empty.”

The Department for Transport wants to make Britain an exemplar for cutting-edge technological solutions to infrastructure bottlenecks. Jesse Norman, Minister of State for Transport, said as much when he introduced the launch of the TRIG 2023 programme. With applications just closed, the winners for this round should be announced shortly. The programme also provides a collaborative space for innovators, including academics, SMEs, and large businesses, to work with DfT’s policy teams. Since 2014, over twelve million pounds has been awarded to 361 projects.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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TRIG funding triggers 3Squared’s freight PathPlanner project |