£1m innovation projects to lower cost of rail electrification

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The UK government has awarded Furrer+Frey GB, the British arm of the Swiss railway engineering company, £1m to build prototypes as part of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) in South Wales.

The funding will deliver a railway test track demonstrator aiming to reduce costly bridge works and further develop low-carbon electrification equipment.

Reducing electrification costs by optimising the angle of electrification lines

The first Furrer+Frey project aims to cut electrification costs by optimising the incline of electrification lines on either end of bridges, platforms and level crossings.

At these points, trains often have to slow down to maintain good contact between their pantograph (the arm that reaches up to collect power from wires above) and the electrification equipment. Bridges over lines are also typically raised up to fit electrification equipment in underneath. Marginal changes in these situations could produce large benefits for the railway network as a whole.

The Cost-Reducing Dynamic Electrification System (CODES) will help determine the most efficient incline designs, aiming to save construction costs and speed-up existing lines.

Innovative composite cantilever for rail masts

The company’s second project to receive funding will develop an innovative cantilever for rail electrification made of composite materials.

A prototype mast by Furrer+Frey produced just three-quarters of the embodied carbon of traditional masts but still achieved similar strength and durability properties. With the new funding, they will extend these benefits to the cantilevers that hold wires above the railway.

The composite cantilever would further reduce the weight, embodied carbon and cost of the vital piece of equipment. This project is being developed in conjunction with the National Composites Centre.

Noel Dolphin, Head of UK Projects for Furrer+Frey, said: “We’re delighted to be working with the GCRE to accelerate our innovations. It gives us the platform and opportunity to develop practical solutions to boost rail electrification across the UK.

“The kind of testing and development we will do at the GCRE could help us decarbonise more of our railways for less and speed up existing lines."

Construction of both prototypes will be completed by Spring 2025.