IF electrification of railways is to race ahead, there must be improvements to the technology that provides overhead power to locomotives.  At the University of Huddersfield, Dr Pedro Antunes is closely involved in research that aims to make vital breakthroughs and he will soon have a £3.5 million test rig at his disposal.

Meanwhile, he has won a prestigious international award for his work in harnessing complex mathematical formulations for solving engineering problems on railways.

Dr Antunes specialises in the issues arising from the contact between the pantograph mounted on the locomotive and the catenary that supplies the electrical power.  He is a Senior Research Fellow at the University’s Institute of Railway Research and has been announced as the latest winner of the Lagrange Award for the best PhD research in Multibody Dynamics.

Named after a famed 18th century mathematician, the award was instituted by the Technical Committee for Multibody Dynamics of the International Federation for the Theory of Mechanisms and Machine Science (IFToMM), in tandem with the global academic publishers Springer.

In 2018, Dr Antunes was awarded his PhD at the University of Lisbon, in his native Portugal.  His thesis, written in English, was outstanding, so his supervisors Professor Jorge Ambrósio and Professor João Pombo – who is also now based at the University of Huddersfield’s IRR as Professor of Railway Technology – encouraged him to enter it for the Lagrange Award.

The panel of expert judges selected it as the winner against global competition, and Dr Antunes received the award at the 2019 ECCOMAS Multibody Dynamics Conference taking place in Duisburg, Germany.  The award includes a prize of academic books to the value of €1,000.

The full title of the prize-winning thesis is Co-Simulation Methods for Multidisciplinary Problems in Railway Dynamics.  It describes how Dr Antunes worked on the development of innovative computational tools for the dynamic analysis of railway systems, including the interaction of the vehicle with the track and of the pantograph with the catenary.

Multi-body dynamics, which merges various disciplines in order to play a central role in the modelling, analysis, simulation and optimisation of mechanical systems, is one of the mathematical formulations explored by Dr Antunes.  The tools he has developed are now being used by leading rail firms around the world.

Pantograph Test Rig

Dr Antunes and Professor Pombo have joined the University of Huddersfield’s IRR, ensuring that it is a world-leading centre for pantograph research.  The computational simulations described in the thesis and subsequent articles co-authored by Dr Antunes will be combined with hardware in the shape of the soon-to-installed test rig, currently under construction by Italian conglomerate Simpro. 

It will be fully operational by spring 2020 and is funded by the UK Railway Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN).  The Institute leads UKRRIN’s Centre of Excellence in Rolling Stock.

Pantographs brought for testing will sit on a moving table that mimics the behaviour of a train and will interact with a virtual catenary, modelled by advanced computer software.

“The rig is designed to be flexible and will be available for the rail industry to come to us with a new pantograph or new catenary and ask for tests to be carried out in order to de-risk or validate their technological developments,” said Dr Antunes.