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Rail technology reduces overhead wire damage


panto tech MP
panto tech MP

Monitoring system continuously measures pantograph uplift forces and defects

Network Rail is to roll-out a new pantograph monitoring system that could reduce instances of overhead wire damage on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

The PanMon technology, developed by Ricardo Rail, provides continuous measurement of pantograph uplift forces and defects (including chips, damaged end-horns and worn carbon strips) from trains passing at speeds of up to 125mph.

Defective pantographs can inflict significant damage to overhead wires. In extreme cases they can cause a de-wirement, requiring costly and time-consuming repairs. While pantographs and the thin carbon strips they carry to draw current from the overhead contact wire are subjected to thorough manual inspections during scheduled maintenance windows, defects can quickly accumulate.

The PanMon system uses an Automatic Pantograph Monitoring System to provide high definition images of each passing pantograph through a combination of radar, laser, video and photo technology, in tandem with a contactless optical uplift monitoring system.

The system automatically interprets data to provide ongoing condition reports of each pantograph by using specialist “pattern-recognition” analysis software. This includes identifying the remaining thickness of carbon strips, and any damage to the pantograph’s head, aerofoils or the end horns, which can affect a vehicle’s ability to maintain good contact with overhead wires.

The system can also measure the uplift of the contact wire resulting from the force applied by the pantograph – as uplifts exceeding specified limits can cause considerable damage to both pantograph and overhead wires.

The PanMon system has undergone a two-year trial on the WCML, with Network Rail now planning to install it as a replacement for the current 30 year old Panchex system, which is reaching the end of its serviceable life.

Mike Dobbs, a project manager for Network Rail, said: “Getting new technology to work accurately and reliably in the rail environment can be challenging, but Ricardo worked closely with us during the trial to overcome the difficulties. We are now able to start the process of replacing our old Panchex systems with a 21st-century solution.”

Network Rail hopes that remote monitoring technology will allow it to identify trains operating on the network that are at greater risk of inflicting damage to the wires. It will also allow it to work with operators to take early preventative action and, ultimately, extend the life of both the wires and the pantograph equipment carried by the trains.

Network Rail said that in the first instance, PanMon would be fitted at four sites on the WCML.


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