Pantograph Monitoring system approved by Network Rail

Pantograph Monitoring system approved by Network Rail
05 November 2015
  • Ricardo Rail‘s ‘PanMon’ system accepted for wider roll out across the UK national network
  • Product approval based on a successful two year in-service trial at Cheddington on the West Coast Main Line.
  • PanMon now planned to be deployed to replace existing 30-year old Panchex systems

Network Rail, the UK rail infrastructure manager, has confirmed that Ricardo Rail’s Pantograph Monitoring system, ‘PanMon’ has been formally Approved for use throughout the national rail network.

The award follows the successful completion of a two-year trial on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), where the system proved capable of providing continuous and accurate measurements of pantograph uplift forces and defects (including chips, damaged end-horns and worn carbon strips) from trains passing at speeds of up to 125mph, meeting Network Rail’s pre-determined technical and performance criteria for the trial.

The PanMon system is now designated for roll-out as a replacement of the current Panchex system, which is now reaching the end of its serviceable life.

Network Rail’s Project Manager for the PanMon trial at Cheddington, Mike Dobbs, said “Getting new technology to work accurately and reliably in the rail environment can be challenging, but Ricardo Rail have worked closely with us during the trial to overcome the difficulties. I am delighted that we are now able to start the process of replacing our old Panchex systems with a 21st-century solution."

David Bishop of Ricardo Rail said “We would like to thank the Network Rail Project team and the WCML train operators and maintainers, especially  Alstom and Siemens, for their feedback and support during the trial. We are now looking forward to working with the industry to spread the benefits of enhanced monitoring of this critical component across the UK network."

Automatic remote monitoring of pantographs can prevent catastrophic damage to the infrastructure, and help improve rolling stock maintenance teams improve their asset management practices.

Defective pantographs can inflict significant damage to overhead wires and associated apparatus. In extreme cases they can cause a de-wirement, requiring costly and time-consuming repairs and causing significant delays to services.

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. In-between these checks, maintenance teams will often rely on a visual check taken from the depot floor. However, with pantographs in constant use and operating under all weather conditions, defects can quickly accumulate.

Remote monitoring technology such as PanMon, however, enables infrastructure owners to identify those vehicles in operation that are at greater risk of inflicting damage to the network’s wires due to general wear and tear. It can also help them 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.

The system uses Sensys’ Automatic Pantograph Monitoring System (APMS) to provide high definition images of each passing pantograph through a combination of radar, laser, video and photo technology, and an innovative new contact-less optical Uplift Monitoring system developed by Ricardo Rail in association with Italian-based optical monitoring specialists DMA S.r.l, Turin.

Using specialist “pattern-recognition” analysis software, the system automatically interprets the data to provide ongoing condition reports of each passing pantograph. This includes identifying the remaining thickness of carbon strips, or of 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 – uplifts exceeding specified limits can cause considerable damage to both the pantograph and overhead wires.

Search for a suitable replacement of an established system

The current Panchex system was originally installed during the 1980s but only monitors the uplift forces from passing pantographs. It is now expensive and disruptive to maintain. Its location within the live 25kV catenary system means that some of its components can only be accessed when lines are closed to traffic and overhead lines isolated, adversely affecting the availability of the system.

This led to Network Rail and industry stakeholders looking for a “modern equivalent” successor system, combining reliable round-the-clock uplift monitoring with additional condition-monitoring capabilities, whilst being easier and safer to operate and maintain.

During the approval trial at Cheddington in Buckinghamshire, which commenced in March 2013, the Pan Mon system was assessed against several criteria set out by Network Rail:

  • That the system could measure a minimum of 90% of passing traffic
  • Capture measurements of carbon thickness on pantographs to within 2mm
  • Deliver accurate measurements of uplift forces
  • Consistently detect chips and defects larger than 25% of the carbon surface width
  • Identify each passing vehicle.
  • Record and report local weather conditions (wind direction / speed, temperature etc.)

Ricardo Rail are now working with Network Rail to roll-out the system across the UK network, commencing with four sites on the West Coast Main Line.