High Speed Current Collection Project

The High Speed Current Collection Project trials, from which the now widely-used BR/Brecknell, Willis High Speed pantograph was developed, were conducted at the test track between 1973 and 1982. The principle of the trials was to validate, by experiment, the predictions of a computer program, which modelled the overhead and pantograph as a complete system of masses, springs, struts and ties etc.


The overhead line at Old Dalby was originally constructed in 1973 with five tension lengths, two of which were devoted to 'scaled' equipment, having half the normal mast spacing and twice the usual contact wire mass. The contact and catenary wires consisted, in fact, of wire rope approx. 20mm diameter. The dynamics were such that running over this equipment represented normal running at twice the train's speed over conventional equipment.

The remainder of the system replicated the equipment in use on BR at the time i.e. Mk3B with a complete neutral section installed at Widmerpool. This was used for high speed, close-up filming of various types of pantographs at  speed, in order to determine the pantograph's behaviour whilst traversing the NS, which was effectively a 'hard spot' on the system. Various designs of NS were also trialled in this way.

Although the OHLE was erected primarily for the Electrification Section of the R&DD for trials with a servo-assisted pantograph and development of high speed neutral sections, section insulators etc, by the late 1970's the Dynamics Section were casting glances towards this facility. The potential offered by the BR/Brecknell Willis  pantograph in the furtherance of studies into modelling the interaction between pantograph and OHLE  meant that the Electrification boys took second place at the test track.


Static and dynamic tests were carried out over a number of years at the test track, during which time various experimental pantographs were constructed, modified and discarded. 

As with all projects there was a great deal of preliminary work carried out before the final developments. This project commenced by utilising the existing pantographs which were in use on BR at the time. Examples of both the Faiveley AMBR and the AEI Cross Arm pantographs were acquired and subsequently modified with an additional top frame etc. but found eventually to be unsuitable.

However with the assistance of Brecknell, Willis and Company the final pantograph, which was developed as a result, proved to be a world-beater and can be seen in places as diverse as the USA, Taipei and Bletchley Depot. A potted history of its development and its ups and downs is included on the Brecknell Willis highspeed pantograph page on my train testing web site.

A variation is now fitted to the Pendolino.

Here are some pictures of the various works undertaken on this Project - click on the picture for a bigger image.

Static Tests

A46 road bridge

Lab Coach 1 RDB975000 (right) stands near the overbridge on the A46 in the company of High Speed Freight Vehicle 1 (HSFV1) RDB511023 and High Speed Freight Vehicle 4 (HSFV4 - a Ferry Van) RDB 787319, parked some distance away, during static vibration tests on the overhead line in the mid 1970's.

Author's collection

Lab One with HSFV4

A closer view of the test. Various instruments were fitted to the overhead line during this type of test to monitor the movements. A hydraulic ram was connected to the OHLE for the tests and a series of vibration tests were undertaken. The tripod of scaffold poles is there to anchor the catenary and contact wire for the trial.

Note that the coach has its original BR1 bogies - later it was fitted with APT-E LC1 bogies for high speed running.

Author's collection


Another view shows the hydraulic ram mounted on the roof of the ferry van.

Colin Marsden

Static tests

A close-up of the ram on the roof of the ferry van - note the cables to the instruments on the overhead and the HSFV1 wagon being used as a stabiliser

Author's collection

Night shot

Due to the effects of sunlight spoiling the tests, as it caused the wire to expand, further work was conducted at night when the temperature was more stable. A dramatic shot of HSFV4 shows the hydraulic ram on the track and the instrument cables hanging from the OHLE. This was taken in the vicinity of 114 MP at the top of the Widmerpool straight. Lab 1 can be seen in the background.

Author's collection

Dynamic Tests

GEC cross arm pan

Here is a classic picture taken from the roof of the ex-LMS pantograph test vehicle (Lab 26) as the train rounds Folly Hall curve and heads down the Widmerpool straight in 1973 not long after the equipment had been installed. 

The AEI Cross Arm pantograph has been heavily modified with an extra top arm and carries various items of instrumentation. The second vehicle also carries another AEI Cross Arm pan, possibly a servo-assisted derivative.

Author's collection

Faiveley modified

Here's the precursor of the work which was to result in a world-beating pantograph. A Stone-Faiveley AMBR (bicycle frame) pantograph is pictured on the test car similarly modified with an extra top frame and one piece carbons. It was also fitted with twin air cylinder suspension in place of the usual springs.

Author's collection

Pan testing 1973

The test train headed by Class 47 No:1535 seen from the trackside probably taken in 1973 from the A46 before the trees grew and obscured the view

Author's collection

BR-BW pan early version

The early version of the BR/Brecknell, Willis Highspeed pantograph pictured on the roof of Lab One in 1977.

Author's collection

Class 37 at 114MP A six coach pantograph test train headed by Class 37 No: 37067 heads north down the gradient past 114MP. These tests in 1982 were carried out to establish the performance of two pantographs running at various different spacings.
Passing the hut Moments later the train is past and heading away towards Widmerpool, one and a quarter miles away. The P-Way hut on the left was often used as a base. It had a nice coal stove inside which was sometimes used during winter testing. The hut still stands today.
Class 37 passing the hut As part of the tests another variation of train formation sees the two Lab coaches marshalled adjacent to each other with the Class 37 on another trip down the straight.
Tea break The test train stands at 114 MP whilst the on-board computers are set up and the crew have a brew. Neither pantograph is raised on the test coaches Lab 1 and Lab 6 'Prometheus' RDB975422

Laying the boards

This rather unflattering shot shows another test train formed of a class 47, HSFV4 ferry van and Lab One, stopped on the straight whilst a reflective board is fixed in the four foot. This was to enable accurate positioning of the train to be recorded via a reflected light beam from the coach. Note the coach is now fitted with APT-E LC1 bogies
What's going on? Quite what was happening on this occasion is forgotten now but this is the hut at MP114 where instrumentation was occasionally housed during pantograph testing. 
The view from the A46 road bridge looking south not long after the equipment had been installed. Note the instrumentation on the nearest mast.

Author's collection

A46 OHLE The view in the opposite direction towards the former Widmerpool station. The Schooner Inn (later the Pullman Inn) can be seen on the right through the bridge.

Author's collection

Plastic structure

A 1981 view looking south towards Folly Hall curve on the Widmerpool straight showing the 'scaled' catenary.

Note the red GRP temporary portal structure in the background, which was being assessed at the time for use as an emergency repair

Later testing

With the completion of the HSCC Project the overhead equipment part of the test track was used for aerodynamic testing as well as some development work by the Electrification Section with servo-assisted pantographs and high speed neutral sections.

In connection with this a class 87 loco was utilised and rumour had it that the pantograph was not successfully lowered at the end of the test run resulting in it striking an over bridge. However I cannot vouch for this story!

Class 87

87005 'City of London' with the BR/Brecknell Willis highspeed pantograph. It is rumoured that a test with another Class 87 resulted in its pan striking an overbridge

Re-building and Maintenance

Over the latter years of the HSCCP test programme from 1978-83 the scaled overhead equipment was re-built several times to represent different types of equipment, i.e. trolley wire (a single contact wire only), stitched equipment (as used extensively on the high speed lines in France) and Mk4 equipment (with higher tension in the cables).  Representative bridge and level crossing wire gradients were also included in the 'scaled' equipment.

To accomplish this a Drewry Car self-propelled overhead line maintenance vehicle was acquired from the Eastern Region in 1977/78. It had been one of a small class of vehicles used extensively on the former Manchester, Sheffield, Wath DC lines and also on the GE and was restored and modified in the workshop at the RTC for use at Old Dalby. Two Drewry Cars were acquired by R & D - one was used as spares.

Equipment consisted of an hydraulic access tower which could be raised and lowered as required. This was original equipment onto which was mounted a new solid timber platform which was capable of extending either side in order to access the fittings on the masts. 

The hydraulically operated tower had an access ladder attached which rose and fell accordingly. This was adjacent to the steps at the rear of the vehicle and could be dangerous if one didn't watch where ones feet were as the ladder descended. Luckily we never had any accidents of this sort when I was involved

Creature comforts included a small gas cooker mounted on one end of the workbench and a couple of gas heaters mounted on the wall sides within the vehicle. Opposite the workbench was a bench type seat.

When we needed 240v/110v for power tools I think we brought along a petrol generator and placed it on the rear platform

A wooden extending ladder was mounted on supports on the outside of the vehicle for independent access to masts and contact wire. I well remember climbing the ladder to fit accelerometers to the centre of the spans - very disconcerting when you're up in the air 16 feet off the ground with nothing surrounding the ladder!

One of the Drewry Car OHLE Inspection vehicles stored at Colchester before the R&DD acquired them

Stephen Rushen

The other of the Drewry Car OHLE Inspection vehicles stored at Colchester before the R&DD acquired them

Stephen Rushen

Cold winter's day The Drewry Car OHLE Inspection vehicle RDB998901 is seen in action with engineers re-building a structure on the Widmerpool straight. This was the middle of February and the staff are well wrapped up against the cold.

The hydraulic tower is shown raised and the platform extended providing access to the upper parts of the masts and the catenary fittings. Notice the detachable guard rails - useful but generally got in the way when work was being carried out.

On the left can be seen the Ferry Van HSFV4.

Another view showing the Drewry Car with HSFV4 in tow. It could manage a light load such as this. I well remember that the gas heaters in the Drewry Car caused running water inside on the single glazed windows on cold winter's days.
Nice sunny day On another visit to the test track - this time in the summer. This view shows the Drewry Car in the vicinity of 114 MP with the working platform extended to the cess side. The hydraulic tower is retracted.

Author's collection

Now when I nod my head... A close up of the work - here some unidentified piece is being sawn by the author whilst a colleague assists - on a nice sunny summer's day.

Author's collection

Soon be lunchtime

The author hard at work doing something or other

Author's collection

Another sunny day

Another view on the same day opposite MP114 as a bridge piece is adjusted

Ready to move

Hydraulic tower retracted and ready to return to the Control Centre.

Note the gas bottles on the platform - gas was used for cooking and heating

Another day- another dollar

What a way to spend a nice summer's day!

Although two Drewry Cars were acquired by R & D and numbered RDB998900 and RDB998901 only one was modified for its new role. It was utilised for a number of years, and was even painted in the new colours of red & beige. However together with its mate it was eventually sold off to the EM2 Society as no longer being required. Today it has been restored to its Research Division livery and fitted with seating.

Old Dalby compound

A nice picture of both Drewry cars at Old Dalby on 5th November 1978 - note that RDB99800 which was not used still retains its BR Green livery at this stage



The second Drewry Car RDB99800 which was acquired for spares survived and in 1997 was sold along with its operational sister unit to the EM2 Society. It is seen here on 1st August 1997 round the back at Old Dalby showing not a little rust

Note the novel single buffer on the buffer beam

Ian Dobson

RDB998901 The operational Drewry Car RDB998901 is seen here on 1st August 1997 round the back of the compound and wearing the later R&DD livery of beige and red. It had probably not been used for many a year when this photo was taken

Ian Dobson

Drewry restored

DB988901 in BR green as running on the Middleton Railway in 2000.

It was restored by the EM2 Society. Their site gives more details of its restoration with numerous photos

David Annable

R&D again

The Drewry car back in the red and blue of the R&DD.

The vehicle is now nicknamed 'Oliv', (Overhead Line Inspection Vehicle). For more information about the vehicle today click here

Ian Dobson

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