The BR/Brecknell, Willis Highspeed Pantograph

As mentioned on the page related to the High Speed Current Collection Project, during the course of the project British Rail developed an experimental pantograph to enable the assessment of the dynamics of current collection (prediction and reality) to proceed.

During the early stages of this work it became obvious to the engineers involved that neither the Faiveley AMBR nor the GEC (AEI) cross-arm pantograph, which were the two main pantographs in use on BR at the time, could be used in their standard form for this type of experimental work. However, the Faiveley 'bicycle frame' pantograph was thought to be the better of the two types and accordingly various modifications were carried out to a pantograph including adding an extra arm and fitting air suspension but to no avail.

Help came in the shape of a little-known (at the time) firm in the West Country who dealt mainly in Rapid Transit pantographs. Brecknell, Willis were approached and persuaded to loan a pantograph to BR Research to 'play with'. This standard 'Highreach' pantograph was a compact lightweight example with spring suspension but little friction in the mechanism. Air suspension was fitted and an extra arm was added, as with the Faiveley before, but this time the results were more encouraging.

The final design for use at the test track gave outstanding results, so much so that it was soon recognised that here was a design which might be used 'in anger' to collect current at high speed or to give an acceptable performance on cheaper and dynamically inferior overhead equipment.

Click on the pictures for a bigger image - all pictures are the author's unless otherwise credited

BW pan at Old Dalby

An early version of the experimental BR/BW pantograph mounted on Lab One. The pantograph has separate horns and an external 4th bar. The picture was taken about halfway down the Widmerpool straight on a murky winter's day probably sometime in 1978.

Author's collection

BR-BW pan early version

Another picture of the early days of the pantograph - this is mounted on Lab One - notice the absence of foot insulators. This Lab Coach was not designed to run under 25 kV!

Author's collection

Lab One

Inside Lab One - looking from the observation platform with racks of instrumentation on the right, the Southern Instruments UV chart recorder below and the on-board computer beyond with the keyboard opposite. The computer recorded onto large 1 inch magnetic tape reels.

Also note the Babycham girl - a souvenir from Llandudno acquired during the LMW curving tests of October 1976.

Author's collection

After the HSCCP had been wound down at Old Dalby the pantograph was 'beefed up' for use on the real railway. Tests were conducted with the Research Division's Electrical Research's Lab Coach No:6 'Prometheus', which was equipped with insulators etc, attached to the rear of a service train running between Euston and Carlisle with encouraging results. After these test a number of aerodynamic improvements were made to the pantograph including the fitting of aerofoils.

Now known as the BR/Brecknell, Willis Highspeed pantograph (to reflect the joint effort invested in its development) it was eventually fitted to a class 86 locomotive (86 244) for extended trials on the WCML.

For more information on these trials and also high speed 2 pantograph tests on WCML see my testing pages.


86 244 at Euston

Pictured at Euston Station on 13th February 1980 locomotive 86244 carries the first BR/ Brecknell Willis Highspeed pantograph to enter service in the UK.

Further expansion brought in 87005 and the Advanced Passenger Train (APT-P Train). It was on 'P train' that the pantograph operated successfully at speeds of up to 150 mile/h between Beattock and Lockerbie.

APT-P in Willesden yard

In the early summer of 1980 the BR/Brecknell Willis Highspeed pantograph was installed on APT-P set No: 370004 and is pictured in Willesden Carriage Sidings, London.

Further development and marketing saw the pantograph being trialled by SJ in Sweden and SAR in South Africa.

Passing test site

On SJ in November 1979, the X15 test train fitted with the BR/BW Highspeed pantograph is pictured passing the instrumented OHLE site on a cold winter's afternoon

South African Railways GEC 6E

An SAR test engineer climbs aboard the GEC 6E locomotive E1525 which is fitted with a BR/Brecknell Willis Highspeed pantograph. This picture was taken in November 1980 on the line between Pretoria and Johannesburg - another November afternoon but a lot warmer!

A version was also developed for the North East Corridor Project in the USA. This had a much longer reach than the European version and was consequently known as the 'Hugereach' pantograph.

FAA Pueblo

The BR version of the pantograph sits on a special framework on the FRA's Pantograph Test Car pictured on the test track at Pueblo, Colorado in the early 1980's. Following successful trails the 'Hugereach' pantograph was fitted to the 125 mile/h Metroliners, which were then about to start running between Boston and New York.

Brecknell Willis in USA

Here's a close-up of the arrangement. The British pantograph needed to be mounted on a framework to raise it to enable the pantograph to reach the OHLE which is approx. 1 metre higher in the USA than in UK.

Note the different head design

Today the pantograph and its variants are fitted to the majority of electric locos in the UK and a number of the higher speed EMU fleets. Eurostar carries a version (for use in Belgium) as does the Pendolino. Abroad the pantograph is fitted to the latest Acela train in the USA both on the power cars and also the High Speed locomotives.

Developments in pantograph head design, which had their roots at Old Dalby, have been adopted by train operating companies and can be seen on nearly all the existing Faiveley pantographs in the UK.

'Highreach' Brecknell Willis pantographs are also employed on the Tyne & Wear Metro, increasingly on the UK rail network and world-wide.

More photographs of the pantograph's development and testing can be found on my train testing site.


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