Rail Industry Focus


An active Pantograph in action

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 15

Adam Hewitt reports on a demonstration of a new monitoring system to ensure reliable contact between pantographs and overhead lines.

The 2014 winner of the Innovation Award from the Railway Industry Association and FutureRailway was Brecknell Willis for its ‘dynamic pantograph’, with £300,000 of funding attached to develop the idea. Brecknell Willis, based in Chard, Somerset, specialises in electrification and traction for all types of transport systems, including tramways, metros and railways, and with colleagues at City University recently unveiled its progress to senior figures in the industry.

The dynamic pantograph project was kickstarted by a 2011 Collaborative Fund grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, though the concept goes back much further – a paper called ‘Developments towards an active pantograph’ was delivered at the Institution of Electrical Engineers by David Hartland, a senior project engineer at Brecknell Willis, back in 1998, for example.

But the current incarnation of the project has been in development for about four years, during which time City University engineering professors Tong Sun and Ken Grattan have been working with Lee Brun and Steve Cullingford of Brecknell Willis. Siemens and Morganite have also been involved in the work.

The follow-up grant from the RSSB and RIA has enabled further development of the idea and potential practical applications. 

At a workshop on 30 April, academics from City University London’s Photonics and Instrumentation Research Centre hosted a workshop to demonstrate the design and implementation of its active instrumented pantograph.

Existing passive pantographs are part of mechanical suspension systems in which the contact force is predetermined and cannot monitor or adjust to changes in the environment within which they operate.

The project is aimed at delivering a real-time monitoring system ensuring a reliable contact between the pantograph and the overhead line, which could reduce service disruption in severe weather conditions, allow multiple pantograph operation, allow higher speed operation on existing infrastructure, and offer both train and infrastructure maintenance and reliability benefits.

The system, incorporated into the instrumented pantograph, is made up of an array of sensors written into a single length of fibre based on Fibre Bragg Grating technology, the developers say.

The pantograph provides a real-time measurement of both the direct contact force between the pantograph’s current collector and the overhead wire and its contact location when running under overhead power lines.

The industry-focused workshop, supported by the RSSB, featured a review of optical fibre sensor research activities at City by Professor Sun, who also gave a presentation on the design and implementation of the active pantograph with Lee Brun.

Professor Grattan – interviewed in RTM back in our August/September 2011 edition – explained more at the workshop about the university’s longstanding expertise in instrumentation research.

The workshop’s 20 attendees were “drawn from senior engineering ranks within the UK rail industry”.

Professor Sun said: “The pantograph workshop and demonstration was a great opportunity to showcase the world-class quality of City’s optical fibre sensor research and its application to new instrumentation for rail transport, which is critical to the success of the UK economy. This has been an excellent collaboration with Brecknell Willis and the world-class expertise in the field they offer, with the support of the RSSB.”

The team are now in talks about the future practical applications of the project. RTM hopes to have an update on those confidential talks in our August/September 2015 edition.


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

  • 15/11/2019A workforce which reflects society

    Loraine Martins MBE, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Network Rail, joins us in the studio for the third episode of our RTM podcast, talking at...
  • 02/11/2019Monica Barbosa: Women In Rail

    Director of business development and communications at Xrail, Monica Barbosa, thinks women are missing out on exciting opportunities because the...
  • 01/11/2019The dangers of fatigues

    Working long hours, poor health, too little sleep, a demanding job and more can all make us tired and affect our mental and physical performance...
View all News

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Year with brand-new infrastructrure to... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio ... more >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

14/11/2019Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

Rail Technology Magazine’s Matt Roberts explains the significant role data can play within the future development of the rail industry. Standing as a cornerstone of the UK transport network, the rail industry is forever striving to innovate and maximise efficiency in all aspects of its work. Data is just one such way of achievi... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... more >