Instrumented Railway Current-Collecting Pantograph

Lead Research Organisation: City, University of London
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Mathematical Sci


City is proposing to develop an early warning system to monitor continuously the condition of the overhead wire of electric trains. This system will resolve one of the major technical challenges facing the rail industry today, improving the cost-effectiveness, safety and reliability of the electric train fleet operation.
City will build a prototype that will identify emerging overhead wire defects before they escalate and cause expensive system failure. The train pantograph, embedded with City?s novel sensors, will measure the critical strain and temperature parameters resulting from direct contact between the pantograph?s current collector and overhead wires when running under overhead power lines.

Planned Impact

Economic Impact
I. Cost of Dewirements
Dewirements are expensive incidents, as they generally disrupt travel on electrified lines for significant periods whilst the electrification is restored with an interim requirement for emergency diesel traction. If there are five serious dewirements per year with a total value of £25 million (e.g. £5 million each), and assuming 50% of these are due to detectable deterioration (the remainder being objects on the wire) then the net benefit would be £12.5 million for the UK per year. This would mean total savings of £62.5m over the next five years.
II. New Job Creation
The installation of these sensors may require less labour for maintenance. However, in reality this innovation creates broader job opportunities for the new optical installation, data monitoring and processing, as well as the support required for the supply chain of these new optical systems.
It is expected that new jobs will be created in the manufacture of current collectors, in the development of informative pantograph products, in the installation and maintenance of such systems and in the analysis of network data gathered. Based on this, hundreds of new jobs are expected to be created nationally, and thousands internationally (assuming 15 jobs for each operating line)
III. Reduction in the Loss of Manpower
The loss in manpower due to train delays significantly affects the economy. By taking London St Pancras train station, where daily passengers are estimated to be around 300,000, then, assuming 6 hours per person lost per incident, at £500 per day (economic value), the amount of damage per incident is £112.5 million. Assuming the delay affects only 30% of this number (Euston), this figure would be £33.75 million. Therefore, we can say it might be possible to save £84 million per year in the UK by reducing the number of incidents by 2.5 per year. This would mean total savings of £420m over the next five years.
Social Impact
IV. Improving the System Reliability
Electrification failure tends to put route sections out of action for at least 24 hours and major events occur about 5 times per year. This is set to increase as more of the network is electrified and as the system ages, therefore detecting a failure before it happens would have huge benefits to system reliability (e.g. avoid major dewirement events and improve maintenance).
V. Health Risk Minimisation
When a train brings the wires down there are many risks associated with 25kV cables flailing around until the power stops, (which it does once a short circuit is detected). Also, there is a risk to passing trains, people on the track, people on stations, station equipment and signalling. Further, the repair work puts people into a dangerous environment. This will all reduce if we can reduce the occurrence of incidents
Environmental Impact

VI. Reduction in CO2 Emission
Improvement in reliability of overhead transmission system will accelerate moves towards future expansion of electrification, leading to the option to generate motive power from sustainable and non-carbon sources. This is a long term impact.
Compared to a diesel operation, an electric service will have lower rolling stock operating costs (for passenger vehicles fuel savings are currently estimated as between 19 and 26 pence per vehicle mile – a saving of around 50 percent – and maintenance cost savings as approximately 20 pence per vehicle mile).
Electric vehicles, on average, emit 20 percent to 30 percent less CO2 emissions than their diesel counterparts, depending upon the energy mix used for generation. Based on statistics produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in 2010 CO2 emitted from the rail sector is estimated to be around 2.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. If electric trains replace diesel trains, then around 700 tonnes of CO2 emission can be prevented from the atmosphere annually.


10 25 50
Description The major discovery has been in relation to the complexity of sensor systems for such applications. However on-going research has shown that problems with complexity can be overcome through intensive research and development and tests with industry, which have been successful.
Exploitation Route Currently the findings are being taken forward in a new project with one of the partners on the grant and by industry in a round of test and evaluation work.
Sectors Construction


Description In on-going research and development with the company concerned as part of the consortium. This work continues to develop following the award of a patent to the inventors associated with the project. Further industrial funding has been awarded to take the instrumentation system to the next level, following industry-level tests and evaluations.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education,Transport
Impact Types Societal


Description Industry private support
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Brecknell Willis 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2017
Description Amphora Non-destructive Testing Ltd 
Organisation Amphora Non-Destructive Testing Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2006