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Construction of Overhead


Construction of Overhead

To achieve good high-speed current collection, it is necessary to keep the contact wire geometry within defined limits. This is usually achieved by supporting the contact wire from above by a second wire known as the messenger wire (US & Canada) or catenary (UK). This wire approximates the natural path of a wire strung between two points, a catenary curve, thus the use of catenary to describe this wire or sometimes the whole system. This wire is attached to the contact wire at regular intervals by vertical wires known as droppers or drop wires. The messenger wire is supported regularly at structures, by a pulley,link, or clamp. The whole system is then subjected to a mechanical tension.

As the contact wire makes contact with the pantograph, the carbon insert on top of the pantograph is worn down. Going around a curve, the"straight" wire between supports will cause the contact wire to cross over the whole surface of the pantograph as the train travels around the curve,causing uniform wear and avoiding any notches. On straight track, the contact wire is zigzagged slightly to the left and right of centre at each successive support so that the pantograph wears evenly. The movement of the contact wire across the head of the pantograph is called the 'sweep'.

The zigzagging of the overhead line is not required for trams using trolley poles or for trolleybuses.

Depot areas tend to have only a single wire and are known as simple equipment. When overhead line systems were first conceived, good current collection was possible only at low speeds, using a single wire. To enable higher speeds, two additional types of equipment were developed:

Stitched equipment uses an additional wire at each support structure, terminated on either side of the messenger wire.

Compound equipment uses a second support wire, known as the auxiliary, between the messenger wire and the contact wire. Droppers support the auxiliary from the messenger wire, and additional droppers support the contact wire from the auxiliary. The auxiliary wire can be constructed of a more conductive but less wear-resistant metal, increasing the efficiency of power transmission.

Dropper wires traditionally only provide physical support of the contact wire, and do not join the catenary and contact wires electrically. Contemporary systems use current-carrying droppers, which eliminate the need for separate wires.

The present transmission system originated about 100 years ago. A simpler system was proposed in the 1970s by the Pirelli Construction Co consisting of a single wire embedded at each support for 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) of its length in a clipped extruded aluminum beam with the wire contact face exposed. With a somewhat higher tension than used before clipping the beam yielded a deflected profile for the wire which could be easily handled at 250 miles per hour (400km/h) by a pneumatic servo pantograph with only 3 G accelerations.

For tramways there is often only a contact wire and no messenger wire.

Where there is limited clearance to accommodate wire suspensions systems such as in tunnels, the overhead wire may be replaced by rigid overhead rail. This was done when the overhead line was raised in the Simplon Tunnel to accommodate taller rail vehicles. A rigid overhead rail may also be used in places where tensioning the wires is impractical, for example on moveable bridges.

3rd railto overhead wire transition zone on the Skokie Swift


Tensioning of Overhead


Catenary wires are kept at a mechanical tension because the pantograph causes mechanical oscillations in the wire and the wave must travel faster than the train to avoid producing standing waves that would cause wire breakage. Tensioning the line makes waves travel faster.

For medium and high speeds, the wires are generally tensioned by means of weights or occasionally by hydraulic tensioners. Either method is known as auto-tensioning (AT), or constant tension and ensures that the tension in the equipment is virtually independent of temperature. Tensions are typically between 9 and 20 kN (2,000 and 4,500 lbf) per wire. Where weights are used, they slide up and down on a rod or tube attached to the mast, to prevent the weights from swaying.

For low speeds and in tunnels where temperatures are constant, fixed termination (FT) equipment may be used, with the wires terminated directly on structures at each end of the overhead line. Here the tension is generally about 10 kN (2,200 lbf). This type of equipment will sag on hot days and taut on cold days.

Where AT is used, there is a limit to the continuous length of overhead line which may be installed. This is due to the change in the position of the weights with temperature as the overhead line expands and contracts. This movement is proportional to the tension length, that is, the distance between anchors. This leads to the concept of maximum tension length. For most 25 kV OHL equipment in the UK, the maximum tension length is 1970 m.

An additional issue with AT equipment is that, if balance weights are attached to both ends, the whole tension length will be free to move along track. To rectify this issue, a midpoint anchor (MPA), close to the centre of the tension length, restricts movement of the messenger wire by anchoring it; the contact wire and its suspension hangers can move only within the constraints of the MPA. MPAs are sometimes fixed to low bridges; otherwise,they are anchored to the typical vertical catenary poles or portal catenary
supports. Therefore, a tension length can be seen as a fixed centre point, with the two half tension lengths expanding and contracting with temperature.

Most overhead systems include a brake to stop the wires from unravelling completely should a wire break or tension be lost for any other reason. German systems usually use a single large tensioning pulley with a toothed rim, mounted on an arm hinged to the mast. Normally the downward pull of the weights, and the reactive upward pull of the tensioned wires, lifts the pulley so its teeth are well clear of a stop on the mast. The pulley can turn freely while the weights move up or down as the wires contract or expand. If a wire breaks or tension is otherwise lost, the pulley falls back toward the mast, and
one of its teeth will jam against the stop. This stops further rotation, limits the damage, and keeps the undamaged part of the wire intact until it can be repaired. Other systems use various other braking mechanisms, usually with multiple smaller pulleys in a block and tackle arrangement.


Line tensioning

Electric fence

An electric fence is a barrier that uses electric shocks to deter animals or people from crossing a boundary. The voltage of the shock may have effects ranging from uncomfortable, to painful or even lethal. Most electric fencing is used today for agricultural fencing and other forms of animal control purposes, though it is frequently used to enhance security of sensitive areas, and places exist where lethal voltages are used.



Electric fence of high tensile wire. Not all strands are electrified, only those attached to the fence posts with black insulators

Design and function

Electric fences are designed to create an electrical circuit when touched by a person or animal. A component called a power energizer converts power into a brief high voltage pulse. One terminal of the power energizer releases an electrical pulse along a connected bare wire about once per second. Another terminal is connected to a metal rod implanted in the earth, called a ground or earth rod. A person or animal touching both the wire and the earth during a pulse will complete an electrical circuit and will conduct the pulse, causing an uncomfortable electric shock. The effects of the shock depend upon the voltage, the energy of the pulse, the degree of contact between the recipient and the fence and ground and the route of the current through the body; it can range from barely noticeable to uncomfortable, painful or for some fences even lethal.

Fence energizers

Early alternating current (AC) fence chargers used a transformer and a mechanically-driven switch to generate the electrical pulses. The pulses were wide and the voltage unpredictable, with no-load peaks in excess of 10,000 volts and a rapid drop in voltage as the fence leakage increased. The switch mechanism was prone to failure. Later systems replaced the switch with a solid-state circuit, with an improvement in longevity but no change in pulse width or voltage control.

"Weed burner" fence chargers were popular for a time and featured a longer-duration output pulse that would destroy weeds touching the fence. These were responsible for many grass fires when used during dry weather. Though still available, they have
declined in popularity.

Modern "low impedance" fence chargers use a different design. A capacitor is charged by a solid-state circuit – upon contact with a grounded animal or person, the charge is then
released using a thyristor or similar solid-state component. Voltage is consistent due to electronic output controls, within the limits of output power. Pulse width is much narrower, often about 10 microseconds. This design works for either battery or mains power sources.

Depending on the area to be fenced and remoteness of its location, fence energizers may be hooked into a permanent electrical circuit, may be run by lead-acid or dry cell batteries, or a smaller battery kept charged by a solar panel. The power consumption of a
fence in good condition is low, and so a lead-acid battery powering several hundred metres of fence may last for several weeks on a single charge. For shorter periods dry cell batteries may be used. Some energizers can be powered by more than one source.

Fencing materials

Smooth steel wire is the material most often used for electric fence, ranging from a fine thin wire used as a single line to thicker, high-tensile (HT) wire. Less often, woven wire or barbed wire fences can be electrified, though such practices create a more hazardous
fence, particularly if a person or animal becomes caught by the fencing material (electrified barbed wire is illegal in some areas). Synthetic webbing and rope-like fencing materials woven with fine conducting wires (usually of stainless steel) have become available the last 15 to 20 years, and are particularly useful for areas requiring additional visibility or as temporary fencing.

The electrified fence itself must be kept insulated from the earth and from any materials that will conduct electricity and ignite or short out the fence. Fencing must therefore avoid
vegetation, and cannot be attached directly to wood or metal posts. Typically, wooden or metal posts are driven into the ground and plastic or porcelain insulators are attached to them, or plastic posts are used. The conducting material is then attached to the posts.

Electrified palisade fences are usually made from painted mild steel, galvanized steel, stainless steel or aluminium. Typically the fences are 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). The palisade fence is mechanically stronger than a typical steel cable electric fence to withstand
impact from wildlife, small falling trees and wildfires.