Rail Industry Focus

04.03.16

Our holy grail is to provide a pantograph that reacts to the environment

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

Lee Brun, development and WPS manager at Brecknell Willis, a Wabtec Company, updates RTM on the work to deliver an active pantograph.

Last year, RTM reported on the demonstration of a new monitoring system which has been developed to deliver reliable contact between pantographs and overhead lines. 

While the closed loop or active pantograph is not a new concept, the technology required to make it a reality is cutting-edge and has been developed between Brecknell Willis, City University London and the RSSB. 

The developers say that by placing Fibre Bragg Grating (FBG) sensors at the head of the pantograph, the infrastructure it interfaces with can be constantly assessed resulting in enhanced condition monitoring. 

Long Marston testing 

During the 24-month RSSB and RIA funded project, the team has produced several prototypes and the first round of track testing took place at Long Marston in November, achieving “good results”. 

Lee Brun, development and WPS manager at Brecknell Willis, a Wabtec Company, told RTM that the Long Marston testing demonstrated the pantograph has been on a vehicle and “didn’t pull down metres of overhead line”. However, the testing was done on a lightly powered overhead line, on a limited stretch of track at a slow speed. 

“The next test – that’ll be full line speed running, out on live infrastructure. So that’s effectively where we are,” Brun said. He added that the team also believe they have overcome challenges with the FBG sensors. 

“The issues with FBGs is that they’re temperature sensitive, but through some clever algorithms and stuff, they’ve built in a correction factor that’s demonstrated the sensors are accurate throughout the working range of the pantograph,” said Brun. “So far the results are good, and have been demonstrated through lab tests, site tests and environmental tests.” 

Holy grail and spin-offs 

Brun noted that the RSSB and universities can get bad press by “concentrating on research”, but without their support and funding this project “wouldn’t have happened”. 

He added that there are potentially lots of spin-offs from this work, but “our holy grail is to provide a pantograph that reacts to the environment”. 

“That means we can produce more reliable trains with better current collection,” said Brun. “That’s our overall objective, but there are some spin-offs, such as remote condition monitoring, where we’ve now got something that weighs not a lot, that can effectively be built into a pantograph such that the naked eye wouldn’t be able to tell much difference from a standard pantograph, and that can actually measure the forces at the interface between the overhead line and the pantograph.” 

While Brun hopes to bring the technology to the market soon, he says the team must now demonstrate the system’s “robustness in a working railway environment, which is very difficult”. 

“There’s the issue of the availability of trains to run round and get reliability data on it, because of where they operate and the general availability to trial new tech such as this, has been very difficult,” he said. 

“I think we’ve produced a decent and robust enough technical and environmental reliability case. The hard bit is getting the buy-in to it and getting someone to take what is, inevitably, a bit of a risk. We’re trying to make that risk as low as possible.” 

Brun added that the team has done what it said it was going to do: demonstrate that the project is feasible. 

Despite still having some ironing out to do with the project, with the team looking at other avenues of funding, Brun is confident that the technology will get to market for worldwide manufacture, “whether that’s a full closed loop active pantograph or not”.

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