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European Optimised Pantograph Catenary interface

Final Report Summary - EUROPAC (European Optimised Pantograph Catenary interface)

Two rolling-stock / infrastructure mechanical interfaces are present in the railways. The first consists of the wheel / rail contact, which has been a topic of research for many years, concerning safety and comfort, from the modelling and experimental point of views. The second consists in the pantograph / catenary contact, in which much less research has been performed. However, the pantograph-catenary interface represents one of the most critical interfaces.

From a scientific point of view, the pantograph-catenary interaction generally constitutes the first blocking point when increasing the train speed, due to the phenomenon known as the 'catenary barrier' - in reference to the sound barrier - which refers to the fact that when the train speed reaches the propagation speed of the flexural waves in the contact wire a singularity emerges, creating particularly high level of fluctuations in the contact wire. When operating in a multiple unit configuration, the pantograph-catenary system is even more critical, since the second pantograph experiences a catenary that is already perturbed by the passage of the first pantograph.

From a more practical point of view, this interface implies interoperability issues, contrary to the wheel / rail contact. Finally, defects in the catenary or in the pantograph often lead to the rupture of the contact wire and consequently to the interruption of service on the line and to perturbation on the adjacent lines. Statistics consolidated over Europe show an average number of approximately one million minutes of delay related to current collection, generating tremendous costs to the railway stakeholders in particular and to the society in general.

The EUROPAC project, co-funded by the European Commission, addressed this problematic through three main topics: simulation, track-side and on-board monitoring.

The first result of EUROPAC is a joint interoperable software, which simulates the pantograph catenary dynamic interaction. It is made of two independent softwares which are based on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. The first module 'Outil de simulation du captage pour la reconnaissance des défauts' (OSCAR) developed by SNCF simulates the catenary and the second one, 'Dynamic analysis program (DAP) developed by IST simulates the pantograph. The resulting tool, named Europacas allows simulating any type of pantographs and catenaries in three dimensions, and allows taking into account up to now unaddressed effects such as the action of wind, temperature, switches, road bridges, etc.

The second main outcome of EUROPAC is a track-side monitoring station, which is in operation along a high-speed line in Germany. It is based on already existing sensors such as uplift and acceleration sensors, mounted on the contact wire. Coupled with a real-time diagnosis tool, which analyses the measured signals in an automatic way, it allows detecting and identifying defects in the pantographs passing on the line.

Last but not least, EUROPAC resulted in an on-board monitoring system which automatically inspects, at high-speed, the state of the catenary. Based on 'classical' sensors such as accelerometers and force sensors mounted on a pantograph, it is completed with an expert system combining human-like expertise and automation, named the 'Real-time data analyser' (RTDA). This RTDA analyses the signals in real-time, and consequently detects, localises and identifies the defects present in the catenary system.

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