The next generation of trains will be tested in the UoH Research Lab for Railway Pantographs
High-speed rail transport is carving out a leading role in mobility policies worldwide. In Europe alone, the HSR (High-Speed Rail) network will grow from 16,000 to approximately 30,000 kilometres by 2030. With such a prospect, rail transport is expected to compete directly with air transport, resulting in many benefits in terms of environmental aspect.
But, to compete on equal terms with air transport, operating speeds of over 300 km/h are required. Furthermore, the Paris Agreement is clear: by 2040, net railway emissions must be zero. This implies a vast program of electrificationand contextual decarbonization of the grid. Another need for the railway sector is to have versatile vehicles capable of moving on not always homogeneous grids, though ensuring the level of performances and the compliance with safety requirements. For all these reasons, it becomes essential to implement tools for the research and development of efficient and reliable power supply devices.
The University of Huddersfield and Simpro have erected a test bench for the new pantograph-catenary systems. The research conducted by using such a system will be essential not only in the railway electrification process but also in the renewal of the existing catenary network.
Ensuring an optimal current collection by the pantograph is one of the key points in the development of the rail technology. The best current transmission quality is obtained when the pantograph, by sliding on the catenary, maintains a constant pressure on the contact wire. This condition can never be fully met due to the instability of the surface on which the pantograph is fixed as well as to the elasticity of the catenary.
For trains with speeds above 200 km/h, the interaction between catenary and pantograph may also be the cause of heavy mechanical and electrical stresses that determine a wear and tear of the contact elements, electromagnetic alterations due to the formation of electric arcs, mechanical stresses and thermal unbalance as a result of high currents.
The test bench developed by Simpro and UoH has innovative solutions and high-performance capabilities that make it, probably, the most advanced pantograph-catenary test bench in the world. Thanks to this bench, dynamic tests with speed simulation up to 500 km/h can be performed on different types of pantograph for both conventional and high-speed lines.
The bench (equipped with a 6DOF movable platform, where the pantograph sits) is capable of imitating any movement or vibration of the train; therefore, it can simulate any scenario the pantograph may encounter during its operation. In addition, the bench is provided with a number of last-generation sensors to monitor forces, accelerations and displacements, so that it will be possible to optimize the design, provide virtual homologations, and also promote the development of highly efficient railway electrification projects.
One of the most interesting applications of the technological development of pantographs is the possibility of extending their use to areas that have been unrelated to this device so far. For example, Siemens has thought of eHighway, a system that combines the efficiency of electrified railways with the flexibility of trucks in a solution for road transport powered by electricity.
Another potential application is the Siemens eBus system: external charging stations for fully electric city buses.
As regards the pantograph technology, it is possible to think of advanced detection systems installed on the pantograph itself to monitor the collecting performances of electric vehicles, as well as of remote monitoring systems to detect faults and implement predictive maintenance strategies.
If optimized with the most recent technological innovations, a tool like the pantograph (whose invention dates back to 1879) can become a device that is not only extremely energy efficient, but also ductile, capable of promoting ecological and versatile solutions for present and future mobility.
Source: Gallo Rosso M., Deva D., Termini D., Iwnicki S., Pombo J., Antunes P.; Full-scale high-performance Test Bench for research and development of Pantograph and Catenary Technologies to support Rail Electrification, 2020.