Future Railway Pantograph Rig

Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) is a Nationally Recognised Research Centre based in the University of Birmingham Engineering and Physical Sciences Department. They specialise in training engineers and developing world-leading technologies, with collaboration between industry and academia to drive UK and global rail innovation.

BCRRE’s Condition Monitoring and Sensing Research Area develops bespoke instrumentation and processing systems to measure and predict the health of various railway subsystems.

Development of a laboratory-based test rig for evaluating and characterising pantograph dynamic loading performance. More specifically identifying changes in its dynamic behaviour, including friction and damping, when compared against an exemplar pantograph.


  • Hold the pantograph in test in a fixed, known, repeatable position near the floor.
  • Move the actuator over a range of:
    • Vertical positions within the boundaries of where the pantograph can reach.
    • Laterally positions within limits and at a speed of around 750mm/s.
  • Apply a vertical force to the pantograph contact strips from above at the same height with controls for lateral position, frequency of applied force, time-history of the applied force, and a limit on vertical forces.
  • Measure:
    • Applied force.
    • Individual applied forces to the contact strips.
    • Vertical displacement between the actuator and contact strips.
    • Lateral force in the actuator at two contact points
    • Relative lateral positions of the actuator and contact strips
  •  Detect loss of contact between actuator and contact strips over a time of 5 ms, logging the history of the loss of contact and the correlation between loss of contact and applied force.
  • Carry out autonomous test including: an automatic dropping device test, a hysteresis test, a frequency domain test, a playback test.
  • Operate on 415V, 3φ supply, with no more than 16A per phase.
  • Fully safety compliant to the national standards for fixed electrical/mechanical equipment and Network Rail standards for fixed plant.
  • Identify vertical and lateral frequency response at different lateral positions and calculate the hysteresis curve critical parameters.
  • Produce:
    • Analysis of test results.
    • Automated test report.
    • Go/No go indication for the pantograph.




  • Supplies: 400V 16A 3-phase cabinet supply and x3 UoB 13A wall sockets.
  • Cabinet 800 x 1800 x 400mm, with front door mounted isolator, top cabinet mounted braking resistors and 200mm plinth for cable exits. With an ABB isolator, Schneider MCBs, Murr PSUs, Weidmuller Terminals, NI FPGA based hardware, and Pilz safety relays.
  • Control PC running Windows 7 Pro, with an ethernet connection, VESA mounted and dual monitors.
  • x2 Parker Servo drives one for each axis.
  • Flexible cable routing to the motors and transducers.
  • Utilise the Safe Torque Off feature of the Compax 3S drive.
  • Key Exchange to safely remove power to the drive via STO.


  • Calibration Interface with Analogue Input & Output set-up (for Units, Gain, Offset, Precision, Filter, Min/Max limits, Voltage, Scaled), Simulation Mode set-up, and manual position control of Vertical and Horizontal axes.
  • Control Interface with Vertical and Horizontal Control Profiles loaded from a library of profiles and including the amplitude of the Y-axis and the period of the profile.
  • Data Acquisition Interface which displays up to 10 channels during the test of the recorded transducer feedback and servo demand values at variable acquisition rates.
  • Analysis Interface which analyses the test data in parallel with a test running, applies a frequency response algorithm and hysteresis curve algorithm, and then exports the final report to PDF.


The first UK laboratory-based pantograph dynamic test rig that can carry out a wide range of dynamic tests.


  • Movement of the test rig to the new BCRRE facility in 2020.
  • Commercialisation of a depot-based pantograph dynamic test rig to automatically assess the condition and serviceability of pantographs and which recommend maintenance or repair as appropriate.


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