Mitigating the issues caused by ice on overhead line equipment

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Upcoming winter trial of an anti-icing product on overhead lines could help reduce seasonal issues and service disruptions.

In Great Britain, we experience numerous seasonal challenges for overhead line equipment (OLE). During severe cold snaps, ice can form which can result in current collection issues for trains and increased wear rates for pantograph carbon strips. In severe cases this can lead to arcing, power surges and stranded trains which cause huge disruptions to customers. 

Current solutions to prevent ice and snow causing disruption include ‘ghost trains’, where a train is run empty overnight to keep tracks clear, however this is costly and relies on resources – train and driver – being available. Other solutions such as electrical heating of the OLE, while effective this is not considered to be economically viable and ice-breaker pantographs are perceived as increasing potential for OLE damage.

Overseen by the Seasonal Challenge Working Group, we commissioned the project ‘Anti-icing and de-icing mitigations for pantograph and Overhead Line Equipment’ (T1219). The project aims to provide Great Britain’s mainline rail with a better understanding of how ice formation affects OLE and pantographs, to identify anti-icing and de-icing mitigations to prevent or reduce the impact of ice.

With the desktop and laboratory-based research now complete, the focus is now on carrying out in-service trials of the anti-icing product that scored most effectively in the atmospheric chamber. The product did not demonstrate any significant ability to reduce ice build-up, however it did make it easier to remove ice by scraping (simulating the effect of a pantograph), which would be commercially beneficial.  

Through our project we will evaluate the performance of the product over the winter of 2022/23 at a site in the north of England, an area often affected by adverse weather conditions, using pantograph camera footage and on-board electrical system monitoring. The aim of the in-service trial is to provide quantifiable data on the reduction of arcing that is achieved by the use of the anti-icing product.

The development of efficient, durable and cost-effective anti-icing solutions is vital to protect the infrastructure and rolling stock, and improve reliability of service to customers. If the in-service trial is successful, the railway will have greater capability to manage this seasonal issue delivering a better service in the winter period.

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