Tests find North West overhead power lines in tip top condition: PANDAS testing composite

Friday 26 Mar 2021

Tests find North West overhead power lines in tip top condition

Region & Route:
North West & Central
| North West & Central: North West

Pioneering tests of almost 800 miles of high-voltage overhead electric cables which power trains have shown they are in great condition on key North West rail routes.

In a North West first, an electric train specially equipped with a system called PANDAS* checked the overhead lines to find underlying faults before they can escalate.

Dramatic footage released by Network Rail today (Friday 26 March) shows what happens when such faults cause the complex network of power lines to come down - causing long and costly delays to passengers and freight.

Over two days just two faults requiring immediate attention were found along 780 miles of track tested on the West Coast main line between Stoke-on-Trent and Carlisle and key routes in Cheshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester**.

Eight minor glitches in the 25,000-volt cables which power trains were also picked up during the detailed inspections. These early warnings mean the faults can now be dealt with so they don't cause major disruption at a later date.

Weaknesses in the overhead wires can cause them to sag and get caught on electric trains as they pass below.

This can lead to hundreds of metres of electric power lines being pulled down, forcing entire sections of railway to close while repairs are made.

Phil James, Network Rail’s North West route director, said: “We work tirelessly to maintain vital overhead line equipment which power trains across routes in the North West and it’s a testament to my hardworking teams these PANDAS inspections have revealed so few faults.

“Being able to spot hidden issues before they delay passengers and freight is crucial, and by adopting modern techniques like these we’ll be able to build a much more reliable railway for the future.”

Network Rail worked in close collaboration with train operators and manufacturers to carry out the PANDAS tests.

It’s as the rail industry works together to get the railway in the best possible shape for passengers when coronavirus travel restrictions can be eased.

As the North West doesn’t yet have a PANDAS equipped train, West Midlands Trains loaned its adapted Class 350 for the inspections.

Meanwhile, freight operator GB Railfreight provided one of its drivers, and the operation was supported by Northern station teams as the service ran around the North West.

Alex Crow, West Midland's Trains' general manager for fleet and contracts, said: "It has been great to see the innovative equipment at our disposal on our unit on the West Coast main line. When Network Rail approached us to utilise it outside of our area, it made perfect sense. If we can assist in preventing issues with infrastructure that could ultimately have a knock-on effect on our patch, why wouldn't we?”

George Witter, GB Railfreight's account manager for rail services, said: "It was fantastic to see numerous branches of the railway industry coming together and collaborating on this project, which has provided valuable information on the performance and durability of the infrastructure on these vital corridors for the UK rail network.”

Using the PANDAS allows for staff to target specific areas alongside their regular inspection regimes.

Over two days of testing, ten issues were identified along 780 miles of overhead cables with only two faults requiring immediate investigation.

For more information on how Network Rail maintains its overhead line equipment visit: www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/

Notes to Editors

*PANDAS explained

  • PANDAS stands for Pantograph Damage Assessment System
  • It’s developed by Northumberland based technical engineering company Transmission Dynamics and is used around the world to detect faults in overhead electric lines, in mass public transport networks.
  • A pantograph is the piece of equipment on a train’s roof which touches the 25,000-volt overhead lines, carrying the current into the train to make it move.
  • A PANDAS is mounted onto a test train’s pantograph to detect changes in the condition of the overhead wires above.
  • The wireless system, uses miniature accelerometers clamped on the pantograph head.
  • Its detailed measurements can find hidden defects early on so they can be fixed before they become a much bigger problem.
  • For more on PANDAS visit: http://www.jrdltd.co.uk/pandas-wa.html

**North West’s pioneering PANDAS testing in detail

  • West Midlands Trains loaned its PANDAS equipped unit to test the railway in the North West. It travelled from Kings Heath depot, Northampton, on Sunday 14 March basing itself from Crewe for the two testing days.
  • Monday 15 March concentrated on the West Coast main line visiting: Lancaster North Junction (Jn), Beattock DPL, Carlisle South Jn, Lancaster South Jn, Oxenholme LD, Winwick Jn and Wigan North Jn, covering a total of 480 miles.
  • On Tuesday 16 March overhead line equipment was tested at: Preston Shunt Line via Chat Moss, Alderley Edge, Manchester Piccadilly, Styal Lines, Manchester Airport, Wilmslow, Stockport, Longsight DGL, Crewe, Wigan North Western and Stoke-On-Trent, covering a total of 300 miles.

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