Transforming life and reliability of railway overhead electric power lines

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


As railways are increasingly electrified, service levels depend on an increase in life and reliability of overhead electric power supplies beyond the performance of current materials and technology. Overhead power lines are highly stressed structures without redundancy. Their failure in service is caused by a combination of wear, fatigue cracking, and corrosion, and can be strongly influenced by geometry (e.g. gradient at approach to tunnels). Current collection quality is determined by material behaviour under combined cable tension, the frequency of cable supports, dynamic load from current collection pantographs, and environmental loading (e.g. side winds).

Completion of the project will lend itself to the ongoing commitment by Network Rail to improve the reliability and lowering of the cost in maintaining the existing overhead line equipment. Integration of the research with Network Rail's aims provides a route through which results can be implemented.

Aims and objectives: To establish how novel line materials, components and geometries may offer improved dynamics at reduced cost relative to current systems. This will be achieved through developing an existing finite element model to incorporate the existence of limited clearance cases such as overbridges and level crossings. The research will identify areas of high force on the overhead line equipment through the use of the developed model, enabling investigation of how forces can be reduced or managed, and be used to predict areas that would be prone to failure in the future over an range of conditions.

Novelty of the research methodology: The research will consider materials, components and installation geometries which have not yet been applied in overhead line installations. Research will focus on developing current model of overhead lines to incorporate gradients to predict dynamic loads in areas of the rail network such as over/underbridges and level crossings. Fluid models will also be developed to work with the overhead line model to determine the loads and effects of side winds (e.g. the effect known as galloping wires).

Alignment to EPSRC's strategies and research areas: The research is aligned with the sustainability agenda in producing longer life infrastructure. Environmental change is considered through the effect of increased wind forces on structures. Materials engineering (metals and alloys) is a key factor in selecting novel materials for use in this industrial application. Moreover, the research is aligned well with EPSRC's areas of engineering design, in the sense that we will seek to optimise the design of future overhead lines. With side winds included in the model, this will also align with EPSRC's research areas of fluid dynamics and aerodynamics.

Any companies or collaborators involved:
Network Rail - access to data, field test/measurement sites, and key engineering expertise
Furrer+Frey - co-financing the research, access to data, and key engineering expertise


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509735/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2021
1802703 Studentship EP/N509735/1 30/09/2016 24/09/2020 Samuel Gregory Hayes
Description Presentation for rail industry members 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Attended the Rail Live event in 2018 for the launch of the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) to present a short talk about the current research into dynamic effects of wind loading on railways overhead lines with the potential impact of wind loading on the quality of contact between the overhead line and pantograph discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Rail Seminar 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Approx. 25 members of the Merail group attended a seminar on rail research. A short presentation was given demonstrating the update an existing model had received in order to simulate railway overhead lines that experienced significant height variations. This created discussions regarding computing time and complexity as well as physical impacts of height variations on current collection quality.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017