In an article for Ricardo's RQ magazine, Anthony Smith explores how smart monitoring technologies like PanMon are helping to transform the rail industry.
Offering improved operational efficiency as well as reduced environmental impact, electrification has long been viewed as the optimum means of traction power for the world’s railways.
The favoured approach of supply, especially where higher speeds and longer distances are involved, is via high-voltage overhead line equipment (OLE), where trains pick up power through roof-mounted pantographs fitted with contacts that slide along the underside of the overhead wire.
However, poorly maintained pantographs can be a significant cause of dewirements, inflicting extensive damage upon the electrification infrastructure and leading to major service disruption.
Overall, the consequences can be extremely costly, as Ricardo’s business manager for Intelligent Rail, David Bishop, explains in the latest edition of RQ magazine: “In the Netherlands, we see around ten dewirement incidents per year. The UK’s system experiences around one per month. Each incident costs the industry up to £1m, on average, but on high speed lines or at major bottlenecks the situation can be much worse.”
To help tackle this issue, Ricardo engineers have developed PanMon, an innovative system that uses highway enforcement (speed-camera) technology to continually monitor the condition of pantographs of passing trains, automatically identifying incipient problems and providing real-time warnings that can prompt immediate corrective action as well as advising on targeted year-round maintenance.
The system can even identify the remaining thickness of the carbon strips on each passing pantograph and detect any damage to the pantograph unit itself (which can affect a train’s ability to maintain good contact with overhead wires).
Following an initial installation at Cheddington on the UK’s West Coast Main Line (WCML), Network Rail formally approved the use of PanMon for use across the whole UK national rail system – a highly significant step as PanMon remains the only such system certified for use by a major network operator.
"Ricardo has something of a unique position in the international rail sector in that our engineers have detailed asset knowledge of both rail rolling stock and infrastructure systems as well as railway operations,” concludes David Bishop. “
Collectively, these intelligent railway systems can help rail infrastructure and operations businesses to manage safety-related risks in real time, and to develop improved asset management and cost-effective maintenance processes. In this way, we are able to make a significant contribution in improving railway performance while driving down costs.”