Under power: the pantograph

22. 02. 2023

The railway is powered by electricity. But how does the electricity get from the grid to the traction units? Via the pantograph, which we present to you here.

For the train to get moving, it needs electricity. It gets electricity from the overhead lines that stretch over the tracks. The current collector, also called the pantograph, is the connecting link: This bow-shaped device, which is mounted on the top of trains, carries the current out of the overhead line along the current-carrying conductors along the track to the vehicle’s electrically operated equipment. The electric circuit is closed again via the rails as the return conductor.

High voltage guaranteed

The pantograph is a simple but powerful construction: It usually consists of four bars that are hinged together. The shears, which are tensioned by a spring, press the bracket against the overhead line with uniform force. This flexibility has the advantage that it can compensate for unevenness caused by the track or the contact wire. For smooth operation, it is essential that the contact between the bracket and the contact wire is not broken. Otherwise, sparks are generated. These so-called bracket fires can damage the vehicle. As a wearing part, only the contact strip otherwise must be replaced regularly: This is the name of the component of the current collector that is in direct contact with the contact wire.

100% green traction current from renewable resources

Incidentally, 100% of ÖBB’s traction current in Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic comes from renewable sources: In Austria, ÖBB Infrastruktur runs seven of its own hydroelectric power plants and the world’s first solar power plant for traction current. Before it can flow into the ÖBB’s overhead lines and via the pantograph to our trains, the electricity is distributed through traction current lines and converted into catenary voltage in substations.