This article first appeared in the Railway-News magazine, Issue 4 2022 Data & Monitoring edition.
For a frustrated passenger on the platform, news that services are suspended due to ‘damage to the overhead wires’, is the most heart-sinking of all.
Where ‘signal failures’ offers hope services could resume shortly, and ‘broken down train’ leaves open the potential that a replacement is on its way, damaged wires suggest long delays. By instinct, passengers suspect they won’t be completing their journey today.
As passenger disappointment frequently festers into frustration, the question of “Why can we not avoid such incidents” appears in thoughts, complaints and increasingly social media feeds.
To some extent, we can.
Over time, damage to the overhead line equipment (OLE) is, of course, inevitable. There are many causes, with weather, such as high winds or extreme heat, being the most obvious.
Another significant cause of damage is defective pantographs.
A damaged pantograph – particularly one with degraded contact strips (the carbon surface that contacts the copper wire), can inflict significant wear and damage to OLE apparatus. In extreme cases, it can cause a tear-down of the wires. For vehicles travelling at speed, the damage can extend for many hundreds of metres, with repairs taking many hours or in some cases days.
On average, the UK railway has one ‘dewirement’ per month, with each incident’s cost estimated at around one million pounds, and considerably more at major junctions.
Gaining the ability to identify defective pantographs and quickly remove them from service can deliver significant benefits to operators, infrastructure managers, passengers and freight.
PanMon is a remote condition monitoring system from Ricardo providing fully automatic, real-time condition assessment of in-service pantographs.
Like other products in the Ricardo intelligent rail monitoring suite, such as InfraMon and CatMon (which monitor for track or catenary issues), PanMon provides a continuous feed of real-time diagnostics without interrupting service.
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