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European Optimised Pantograph-Catenary Interface

Europac brings together major European railway stakeholders in a research project on vehicle/infrastructure interaction through pantograph-catenary contact. The project aims to enhance interoperability between pantograph and catenary (overhead line equipment), decreasing the number of incidents related to this system and reducing maintenance costs by switching from corrective to preventive maintenance. Specifically Europac is developing a comprehensive system composed of joint software for interoperability and both trackside and onboard monitoring systems.

Tags: Rail


Two vehicle/infrastructure mechanical interfaces are present in the railways. The first is wheel/rail contact, which has been a topic of research for many years, concerning safety and comfort, from the modelling and experimental points of view. The second is pantograph-catenary contact, where much less research has been performed.

However, this interface is of crucial importance, since it is more critical to interoperability issues, contrary to wheel/rail contact. Moreover, it constitutes a limitation to increasing train speed due to the wave propagations in the very flexible catenary. Finally, defects in the catenary often lead to the rupture of the contact wire, consequently stopping train services. Consolidated statistics from DB, SNCF and Trenitalia show an average number of 915 incidents per year leading to 308 days of delay, generating tremendous costs to to society in general and railway stakeholders in particular.


The Europac objectives are:

  • to bring together European manufacturers, operators, infrastructure managers and academia involved in railway activities to build up a common research project that will significantly contribute to reinforcing interoperability and standardisation throughout the European rail community
  • to develop a joint numerical software to model the dynamic behaviour of the pantograph-catenary system in three-dimensions, designed to be capable of simulating all present and future infrastructure and rolling stock configurations.
  • to assess existing, and specify new, technical specifications for interoperability
  • to study and model the impact of deteriorated conditions on the pantograph-catenary system’s behaviour including crosswinds and extreme temperature situations, material defects and wear
  • to develop a prototype of a trackside monitoring station aimed at detecting, identifying and assessing, in real-time, defects in a pantograph coming into a network.
  • to develop a prototype of an onboard monitoring system designed to detect, identify and assess defects in a catenary in real-time.
Architecture of EUROPACAS, the Europac software
Architecture of EUROPACAS, the Europac software

Description of work

Interoperability covers two main issues: ensuring interoperability of the equipment during the development phase and monitoring interoperability during operation. Maintenance can also be improved through simulating deteriorated conditions and monitoring systems. To address these two aspects, Europac will produce two types of tools: software and monitoring systems.

Two work packages are dedicated to the development of the Europac joint software. The first is focused on the design of joint nominal software aimed at being capable of representing all current and future pantographs and catenaries. The second is designed to complete the software with modules representing the effects of deteriorated conditions: extreme climatic conditions, defect and wear effects.

Operational interoperability and maintenance are ensured by the monitoring systems developed within two other work packages. For this purpose, these work packages will develop a new generation of monitoring systems combining expert systems and machine efficiency. Moreover, these monitoring systems will take advantage of the defect signatures provided by the software, not only to detect the defect effects but also to identify their origin and assess their seriousness. Inversely, the software will be validated and refined if necessary using results measured by the monitoring systems.


Europac will achieve the following results:

  • A core 3D pantograph-catenary software, based on the latest multibody dynamics and finite-element methodologies developed in a modular manner. This software will have all the features necessary to analyse any model of pantograph or catenary, and also take into account mechanical parameters (tension, contact wire sections) and effects of singular points (curves, switches, changes in the catenary height).
  • Modelling crosswind, extreme temperature, wear and defect effects and integrating the routines developed in the project into the core model.
  • Interoperability assessment of different existing and underdeveloped pantograph-catenary systems. The software will contribute to this result by providing railway stakeholders with a commonly accepted tool and by reducing costly tests, using simulation during the development phases.
  • Evaluation of partners’ compatibility criteria to define joint interoperability criteria or equivalence between compatibility criteria, using both simulation and test results.
  • A trackside monitoring station aimed at detecting, identifying and assessing, in real-time, defects in a pantograph, to allowing infrastructure managers to make the right decision at the right time as well as optimising rolling stock maintenance.
  • An onboard monitoring system to detect and specify, in real-time, defects in the catenary to allow infrastructure managers to optimise their maintenance.
  • Databases containing a) parameters necessary to model pantographs and catenaries used by the partners, b) defect and wear signatures, to be used by the monitoring systems, and c) outputs from on-site tests of the systems, to be used to validate simulation results.
Structures of the track-side and onboard monitoring systems
Structures of the track-side and onboard monitoring systems