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Intro

You arrive at your new modern architect design station and admire its design, in glides a train with an elegant front end looking sleek and fit for purpose. Then you look up and see the overhead electrical wiring that feeds electricity to the trains - and your heart sinks. The brutal mish mash of grey metal structutres that echo electricity pylons ruins the skyline. Is the same railway?

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Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems

All round poles bar one.

kayas-dogancay-arasi-demiryolu-elektrifikasyon-sistemleri-bakim-ve-onarim-isi-ihale-sonucu

Caption: Kayas Dogancay railway electrification systems maintenance and repair work tender result

Height

Traditionally the easiest way to get electricity around was to string wires between poles. Putting the wire underground is expensive and can have running costs in terms of cooling.

In the UK lower voltages in towns have gone underground, but look at the US looks scruffy, due to the use of overhead power lines for domestic electricity suppy.

Sticking the wires up in the air keeps them cool and away from people, they're dangerous after all.

And so electrical engineers see air as a free resource, it doesn't have to be paid for. So they can go as high as they like. And without planning permission.

Current railway OLE has grown in height to add a new auto transformer wire technology and, supposedly, to allow easier installtion of all wires underneath. And taller means bigger. Would the structures be so high if there was a cost, say an environmental damage tax.

After all, the higher you go, the bigger the impact. Nobody complains about low things.Some electrical engineers say that noboddy cares what it looks like as long as they get reliable trains. If we applied the same to buildings our housing would look like Moscows.

Once the juice comes into the Science Park, the pylons become nicely designed. Compare the two designs.

Furrer+Frey

Furrer_+Frey

Their Series 1 looks quite good on their website. Why didn;'those good looks translate toi GWR?

Trust

And do we trust the secretive electrical engineers? They always tell us its fine, that they've learned by their recent mistakes, before they cock up.

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Professionalism

Their seems to be a big mistrust from the EEs of other disciplines that have offered fresh ideas. E don't like designers with their designer do gooderness. Hence rejection of all the RIBA ideas for example.

Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems

Lack of imagination

How Network Rail thought it was alright to use the Master Series, not just in the Goring, but on the whole line. How could they do that?

I know all the residfents of Goring are barristers and they got nowhere in their 3-year battle. Read the sorry tale at:

And the Goblin Wansted viaduct OLE - ugly cantilevers mounted on one side. What a missed opportunity to enhance the appearnce and introduce an art form into the landscape - hoops for example

 

OLE engineers are missing the opportunty to add beauty to the landscape as well as electricity

Aesthetically pleasing structure for sensitive area. Round pole. Can't we have this everywhere? Why does Bath desereve better than us?

Good design

RIBA competition - nothing ever happened. At the time it was reported positively in the Rail press, including the trade press.

Lip service

A network Rail diocument

NR-GN-CIV-100-05-Heritage-Care-and-Development-Module_19.09.20

purports to show care for the environment and quotes GWML electrification as a succes story for the environment. Yet it was a disaster.

Cost

The posts are made in standard lengths so they're always tall enough for the job, less accuracy in the surveying. These over tall masts are not shorted once installed as its easier to leave all that metal up their than cut it off, take it away, and recycle it.

HS2 - look - no wires!

Visuals mainly show the Moxon design, sometimes a conventional mast and often - nothing.

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Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
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Sensitive areas

There does seem tio be agreement that are sensitive areas through which the railways passes through areas of natural beauty and sensitive urban environments. Hence special designs in St Pancras train shed, Durham and Berwick viaducts.

But isn't everywhere a sensitive area? Or put it another way, what are insensitive areas? What if the same rule applied to buildings? Our housing would look like Moscows.

When the engineers say the appearance of OLE is subjective you know theyre arguing a lost cause.

Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems

Elegant 'designer' masts in Holland

Cantilevers mar the London skyline. Missed opportunity to improve the environment.

There are many locations where the industry recognises that OLE must suit the location - Berwick, Durham, Sydney Gardens, St Pancras trainshed and most recently it has been suggrested by Transport Scotland that the Forth Bridge would require a careful electrifuication design to befit its World Heritage Site status.

Letter to XW

For decades we've been told of competitions held by august bodies and occasionally the results are published in the rail press. Then nothing changes. I've had a Twitter exchange with some OLE engineers recently where it has become increasingly obvious that they don't like outsiders like designers and ordinary people throwing in their two peneth. They're fed up to the back teeth with people saying OLE is ugly but unable to offer practical alternatives. There's very little on the internet about this. But occasionally sensitive schemes are trumpeted by the OLE engineers like Durham viaduct and the Royal Border Bridge. Apparently these are hugely expensive requiring individual design and engineering. They look like round poles to me - yes please, can we have these, see picture. Goring Gap and Sydney Gardens have been recent issues, Goring because of the wealthy barristers that live there and Bath for obvious heritage reasons. Closer to your home I wondered what residents in East London thought about the OLE on the Goblin viaduct near Wansted. This is where people live and I would have been pretty upset if these grey cantilevers were added to the skyline where I lived. Picture attached. The taller and higher you go, the greater the impact, and the greater the responsibility to the built landscape. Some nice hoop designs would have been better - see the photo of some in Europe I've attached. For example, when the CTRL was built they used the French TGV OLE which goes higher to support the new 'feeder wire'. This adds more visual impact to HS1 OLE, see pic of Maidstone viaduct. This may be the most obtrusive aspect of HS1. Whereas train and station designers do a good job of combining utility with elegance, OLE engineers get away with murder. I attach a photo (poor quality with signal in the way) of Edinburgh Waverley station with a mess of different grey portal structures marring the classical elegance of the tunnel portals and the Scottish National Gallery. Someone decides what is 'sensitive' and what isn't - who? There's also mention of a special design for HS2 in RAIL 2014, Rail Engineer 2014. But nothing ever happens. We get GWEPs massively over engineered design then back to grey lattice cantilevers on MML and elsewhere. I also attach a photo of two pylons at Cambridge Business Park, the further one outside the park (designed by engineers?) the nearer one inside designed by designers? It illustrates the difference. Maybe nobody cares. It's just extraordinary the way the OLE engineers have to be dragged out of their private world kicking and screaming shouting 'if you want it cheap it has to be ugly'. This is not born out by designs on the continent. Whether it's mobile phone masts, electricity pylons or OLE, the engineering industry resists any input from other disciplines.

Because the taller a structure gets, the more responsibility the builder has to his neighbours.

One practical realsisation that overhead is ugly is the new catenary free extensions to the tram netork in Birmingham.

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Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems

Over tall masts mounted on castleated historic structures.

Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems

Extract from RIBA competition winner

A warm welcome to the team from COBE and Krabbenhøft & Ingolfsson (Denmark) to see the first Tomahawk structure. The Tomahawk (designed by COBE) is one of the finalists in the Future Rail - Aesthetic Overhead Line Structures competition for HS2.

The importance of aesthetic design can be a major factor for the public acceptance of such national infrastructure projects. It’s vital that as an industry we embrace new technologies and materials for these designs that not only look better but offer greater performance and reliability too. We now hope to develop the family of electrification structures and create a real opportunity for us to be successful on the actual HS2 project and other rail applications that demand such an innovative approach.

letter to Rail magazine

Now matter how hard I try to believe that engineering elegance equals beauty I struggle with the appearance of overhead electrification. This was brought home to me by your photo of a train at Wansted Park (P24 issue 876) under the new Goblin Line overhead. Grey cantilevers (the worst structure visually) must scar the skyline from roads and houses down below. The Royal Border bridge at Berwick is given a sensitive design solution (round poles) but the human beings of East London have this inflicted on them. One of the worst examples is the west end of Edinburgh Waverley where a multitude of different structures despoil the classic elegance of the Mound Tunnel portals and the Scottish National Gallery. Whereas trains and stations are aesthetically designed, signal and electrification engineers get away with murder.

 

One might argue that the best design is functional, and that OLE is actually beautiful, the result of the elctrical engineers (dark) art. And on plain line this may be true, with equal spacing, the zig-zagging of the wire and the harmony with the alignment of the route. However, where people come into contact with the railway, in cities, towns and at stations the OLE is more likely to be a mess with lattice work, high level electrical line feeds, extra tensioning sytems and the inevitable H-section masts sawn off at different heights - all plonked around in an almost random manner - and all in delightful light grey, or if you’re unlucky, in varying shades of rust brown or yellow primer.

New trains are designed to look good and new stations are designed by renowned architects with quality items like lamp posts and station sign supports part of the brief (and often painted in the operators colours). But not the OLE supports, these look like theyve come from a different planet.

Current appearance

Turbostar trains sliding in and out of Fenchurch Street from Tower Gateway Station across to the fantastic buildings of the City of London (including the gherkin) are destroyed by rusting gantries (picture). The great train shed at Glasgow Central with its delicate ironwork is pierced by gantries that make no attempt at harmony. In Manchester, the castellated bridges and viaducts carry the railway through the Castlefields conservation area. And what have the electrical engineers put in? Rusty H-masts and industrial signal suppports (picture) .On tram systems the engineers splash out under pressure on round supports - even popping a ball or finial on top to please the local politicians - how Victorian!

But look at locations where the original engineers built beautiful structures to complement the historic environment. In Newcastle, elegant stone bridges carry the railway over still perfect Victorian streets, past the castle and the Tyne Bridge with its beautiful attention to detail. ( picture detail) The enginers should be ashamed, such desecration

Engineers v Designers

light grey steel monstrosities that will have nothing to do with the overall scheme. Because they are safety and cost critical they can’t be entrusted to architects or designers - only engineers can be trusted.

There seems to be a trend in OLE design that is upward in height. The CTRL uses the French extra-tall style masts that carry the auto transformer feed wire. Why does this wire have to be so high on open line when it quite happily drops down to go under bridges and through tunnels. Its this ';air is free' again.

We all turn a blind eye to the blight that - just who do they think they are?

Is it because electrification is seen as a necessary evil? That there is no alternative? That power transmission lines have already set the agenda?

 

Even station canopies are pierced by the supports.

One gasps in astonishment at the sizes of the new structures. No-one wants the railway preserved in aspic and overhead electrification is the way forward to preserve a rail-based transport system which we need in the future after peak oil. The railway is fast becoming an industrial people unfriendly environment and we can do much better. The new HSL-Zuid and the Betuweroute use exciting new ‘designer’ masts that prove that it can be done (picture). More ‘wireless’ tram systems are being installed in Europe, the APS system using burried power cables in Bordeux, Angers and Reims.classic heritage structures like canopies are pierced by the supports.

Electrification engineers appear to answerable to no one and a law unto themselves.

Stations have large industrial edifaces placed on them, huge gantry and signalling structures are placed on the platform in front of the customer, yet people would prefer their railway to be more like their car or a shopping centre rather than an electrical sub-station station. Yes, pasenger numbers are rising, but only because their is no alternative. The railway must become one of us rather than their is no alterrnative.

There is recognition that outdoor electrical structures whether HT electricity pylons, mobile phone mast or railway OLE are contentious, in the countryside, on embankments and viaducts in the city. But the people must have electricity!

 

Why is it that electrification engineers get away with it. Wether it’s national grid pylons or railway OHLE systems they seem to get away with it. Somehow, everyones ‘right’ to the benefits of electricity means that we all turn a blind eye to the ugliness that is electrical distribution.

Light gey seems to be the colour of choice, although rust brown is quite common on older systems. And Black on street tramways. Anyone heard of colour?

New noise barriers on the Trent Valley four-tracking have been designed to look like wooden fencing. Why one rule for everything but no rule for electrical structures. The Blue Mountains Crossing in Australia, and today the rusting gabtries spoil the length of the line (picture) standing in complete contrast to pretty infrastructure at stations like Leura..

But somehow electrical engineers get away with it. Modernisation of the WCML has seen the previously simple masts from the 1974 electrification extended vertically by a bolted on tube to carry this wire at a higher level than previously. This mars the scend up to Scotlaery through the Lune gorge and up to Scotland and is a particularly crude engineering solution which looks like an afterthought. Still higher gantries have been erected to feed extra power down to the overhead wieed power down to the overhead wires. High level transformers are proliferating. Surely, lower structures should be their aim? Because the taller a structure gets, the more responsibility the builder has to his neighbours.

If one looks at thes at Wilmslow to carry overhead wires and a signal light bulbs, especially when compared with the size of the supports holding up the Victorian footbridge nearby. How much is all this costing as well as allienating the user with the industrial environment?

Lip service has been paid in the past to the visual environment, for example the use of round poles on the Royal Border Bridge (ast to the visual environment, for example the use of round poles on the Royal Border Bridge (les on the Royal Border Bridge (e design of similar structures on roads, they get the industrial designers attention, for example ‘designer’ gantries on the M42 and the curved variable sign supports on the M4.

 

 

The new Crewe-Kidsgrove electrification uses too many casntilevers.

From HSL website: The HSL cuts through the countryside of the provinces North and South Holland and North Brabant. The guiding principland construction of the HSL is that, wherever possible, the railway line must be integrated with existing infra

Manchester: The original bridge was designed to grace the southern crossing of Manchester through the Castelfields conservation area. A rusty support takes advantage of the space provided by the castellated tower (picture).

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Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems

Rusting gantries alongside heritage structures.

Overhead line electrification OLE OCS Overhead catenary  systems
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