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Supporting ideas: how the TMH accelerator promotes the development of startups

26 April 2022
Reading time ~ 15 min
Exterior renders of TMH perspective rolling stock models
Exterior renders of TMH perspective rolling stock models. Source: TMH
Reading time ~ 15 min

Russia: 20 startups became the winners of the TMH: New Vision acceleration program, a joint project of Transmashholding (TMH) and the Skolkovo Foundation. Their subsequent support will give a powerful impetus to the development of domestic technological base, as well as will help to introduce innovations to the rolling stock produced by the one of the largest manufacturers in the world. Moreover, the acceleration program aims to shape the future of rail vehicles that TMH will begin to bring to market beyond the 2025 horizon.

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The systematic and long-term order for rolling stock in recent years has allowed TMH to increase the intensity of R&D. So, over the past 5 years, the company has invested a significant part of its revenue in new technologies: in 2020 specifically, about 60 products were certified. Among them are a new generation of metro trains, the Ivolga 3.0 EMU platform, a number of passenger carriage models, 2ES5S and 3ES5S mainline electric locomotives with the first domestic asynchronous electric motor, a new TEM23-based modular diesel shunter locomotive platform.

At the same time, the rail sector is undergoing a period of significant change: the demand for mobility is becoming more complex. The new reality creates new challenges in the competition for passengers and cargo, which require constant improvement in the quality of rolling stock and its maintenance. Such requirements involve a range of solutions in various areas, including reducing the impact on climate and the environment, sanitary safety (disinfection and air purification), noise reduction, the use of new materials, and predictive analysis of the equipment operation.

Moscow-2020 metro trains manufactured by TMH Moscow-2020 metro trains manufactured by TMH. Source:

Although digital technologies speed up the process of such developments, they also create an additional competitive environment. In such conditions, to be a leader, it is necessary to attract external assistance to generate new ideas.

These challenges are understood by both rolling stock manufacturers and operators: internal scientific resources are limited, and scaling their own research ecosystems carries risks for the efficiency and sustainability of their activities. Thus, a step towards outsourcing of R&D work has become obvious, which includes attracting start-ups. Through close collaboration, external developers can systematically analyze the existing product line and suggest improvements. At the same time, the general desire to improve technologies will ultimately provide customers and users with a better and more attractive product.

In the trend of world practice

Today acceleration programs help to identify fresh ideas and develop breakthrough technologies. In fact, this tool allows developers to create a product ready for production and implementation in the shortest possible time. On the other hand, world experience shows that such an investment model can significantly improve almost every element of the railway system in terms of exterior attractiveness, economic efficiency and the impact of transportation on the environment.

Thus, one of the largest in Europe is the German acceleration program Mindbox Berlin. It has been around since 2015, when Deutsche Bahn (DB) and start-ups started working in a purposely created collaborative workplace. The former received unique technologies that benefit customers, while the latter received access to data from Europe’s largest railway infrastructure and start-up capital.

Over the past time, DB has selected more than 150 projects, and still continues to work with 50 participants. For example, the company has installed smart wireless sensors that constantly monitor the voltage of the starter battery and transmit a special signal in case of problems with the railroad switch. DB is confident that thanks to the acceleration program, the modernization of railway transport will receive an impetus, and by 2035, 5 years earlier than planned, the industry will have become more efficient.

A year later, in 2016, 5 UK operators – First, Arriva Group, Govia, National Express, Stagecoach and Virgin Trains – created the HackTrain Accelerator, an annual program that works with startups to find ways to overcome the challenge of peak passenger train traffic, safeness and maintenance of rolling stock equipment. In addition to financial support (winners receive £25,000), each supporting company provides teams with mentors to help run the tests. In its first year, the program accepted over 1,000 applications from startups. One of the winning teams created an algorithm that uses sensors to determine the specific location of trains on the network and create a more accurate timetable for their movement. In addition, by analyzing the received data, the system, if necessary, redirects flows to minimize disruptions in the train schedule.

Russian Railways opened its corporate accelerator in 2019. Since then, the competition for the selection of startups has already been held three times, while it was devoted to different areas: railway infrastructure and traffic control, rolling stock, and logistics. Over the years, applications have been received not only from Russia, but from all over the world – from the CIS countries, Israel, Italy, Taiwan, Germany, France, the USA, Singapore and others. Thus, in 2020, one of the best projects was a monitoring system, hybrid energy recovery systems, a rolling stock technical condition management system, universal protective coatings, as well as the SmartMaintenance predictive analytics program from Ctrl2Go, the partner of TMH.

Winners of the Russian Railways Acceleration Program 2021 Winners of the Russian Railways Acceleration Program 2021. Source: VNIIZhT

Among the rolling stock manufacturers, Hitachi Rail is the pioneer of acceleration programs. It started the process of looking for new ideas and technologies externally with the Hinnova project (to support employee-driven innovation). Now, however, the company has switched to looking for start-ups that are ready to offer the manufacturer advanced technologies already available to the group. In particular, Hitachi Rail is committed to scaling startup technologies by embedding them into its ecosystem. Currently Hitachi Rail is interested in finding solutions related to big data.

TMH: New Vision is the first competition of its kind launched by a Russian rolling stock manufacturer. The pilot year of the program focuses on the technologies required to create advanced metro trains and urban rail transport. Strategically, the project assumes that the TMH Center for Advanced Technologies, responsible for the accelerator, will become a single entry point for innovations in the field of transport.

Building the urban transport of the future

Every day, millions of passengers in the metros of the largest cities in Russia and a number of countries around the world travel in cars manufactured by TMH. The position of the industry leader obliges the company to constantly improve products, offer customers and passengers new solutions, including within the framework of life cycle contracts.

TMH made a technological breakthrough under a contract with Moscow for the delivery of more than 800 metro cars in 2014-2017. At that time, the manufacturer introduced the new metro train platform that met the unique technical requirements set by the metro of the capital of Russia. In particular, it had a more powerful and at the same time light traction drive, wheels with special noise absorbers, a passage through the entire train and a number of other technical solutions aimed at providing a new level of comfort for passengers. Moreover, the concluded life cycle contract still includes the possibility of further improvement of trains.

On this basis, additional 1360 cars contract was awarded by Moscow to TMH in 2020. The producer developed a new version of the train called “Moscow-2020”. It not only became the evolution of the company’s ideas about comfort and the winner of the Red Dot Design award, but also included a number of major innovations that are important for the operator. In particular, the train includes batteries that provide autonomous train operation in emergency situations, as well as GoA3 level of automation with the technical possibility of switching to a completely unmanned GoA4 mode.

Inside the "Moscow-2020" metro train cars Inside the “Moscow-2020” metro train cars. Source:

TMH does not stop there: one of the company’s priorities is to invest in new technologies and create conditions for the domestic engineering development. If at first TMH needed the help of a strategic partner, Alstom, now the company’s strategy is to form a national intellectual property base under the flag “Made in Russia”. The TMH: New Vision startup accelerator is expected to help TMH make metro trains even safer, more comfortable and more reliable.

By the end of August 2021, experts of TMH: New Vision program had received more than 200 applications from 40 Russian cities. Participants offered their ideas on 29 topics, including safety and comfort in the metro, energy storage systems and improving the efficiency of electric motors, new designs and materials for cars, digital solutions for the work of drivers, etc.

Further, the projects underwent an examination, and then – face-to-face diagnostics, which included expert consultations, meetings with representatives of the organizers, training and assistance in preparing presentation materials for the pitch session. The project analysis working group included TMH, the Skolkovo Foundation, Metrowagonmash (part of TMH) and specialized institutes – RUT (MIIT), PGUPS and IrGUPS.

The short-listed participants of TMH: New Vision startup competition along with members of the jury The short-listed participants of TMH: New Vision startup competition along with members of the jury. Source: TMH

As a result, at the demo day, which included the final presentation of technologies, 20 projects were demonstrated, of which 12 were proposed by Skolkovo members. TMH will continue to work with all the finalists. Thus, the requirements for innovative solutions characteristics for integration into rolling stock and other TMH products have been determined, as well as plans for interaction with the best startups have been formed.

The role of TMH in Russian engineering and in achieving national targets of introducing advanced technologies is essential. In recent years, the holding has allocated about 200 bln RUR (almost $3 bln USD) for the purchase of raw materials, materials and semi-finished products, and the range of supplies includes more than 85,000 items. These TMH products are provided by about 2,000 small, 500 medium-sized, and over 3,700 micro-enterprises. In recent years, on average, more than 16 units of rolling stock per day leave the workshops of TMH sites – locomotives, electric and diesel trains, passenger and freight cars, metro cars, etc.

The TMH: New Vision startup platform should in the future give impetus to the further development of the company’s production. The scale of this work will largely guarantee the engineering leadership of both TMH and Russia.

The short-list of TMH: New Vision finalists and their projects (Skolkovo members)

ASPM | Long-acting disinfectant for railway equipment and long-lasting anti-icing thin-layer coverage

Biolum | System for displaying information on the windshield of the driver’s cab

Energo Technologiya | Treatment of electrical contact connections with a multicomponent gallium alloy

Energy Efficient Technologies | Electronic ink screens

FMT | Electric traction drives with permanent magnets for metro trains (Skolkovo Graduate 2021)

InTekhEnergo | Metro cars thermal insulation

Irbistech | Dry ice cleaning during rolling stock service

Omega | Biometric driver face identification for secure cab access

PSO-Project | Energy efficient aluminum composite heating elements for warming and heating-up

TEEMP | Energy recovery system for metro trains (Skolkovo Graduate 2021)

Thermoplastic composites technologies | Thermoplastic composite materials for metro trains

TPS-Energy Systems | Energy recovery system for urban electric transport