The Anonymous Widower

Innovative Composite Masts Look To Reduce Cost And Increase Efficiency Of Rail Electrification

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on New Civil Engineer.

This is the sub-title.

Engineering consultancy Furrer+Frey will this week unveil its innovative composite masts for rail electrification, which could revolutionise the way that rail electrification is undertaken.

Other points from the article include.

  • Development has been undertaken with Cranfield, Southampton and Newcastle Universities and Prodrive and TruckTrain.
  • The project was part funded by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK through the First Of A Kind competition.
  • The first composite masts have been created and tested at St Bride’s feeder station, just outside Newport in Wales.

This Google Map shows the area, where the test will take place.


  1. The South Wales Main Line crossing the South-East corner of the map.
  2. Newport station is to the East and Cardiff station is to the West.
  3. The St. Brides feeder station alongside the railway, by the Green Lane bridge.

I would assume that the connection to the National Grid is via the St. Brides 25 kV Substation in the North-West corner of the map.

The article lists the features of the design.

  • A typical steel mast weighs 750 Kg., whereas a composite mast weight just 80 Kg.
  • I suspect that these masts can be lifted around by a couple of average workers.
  • They have lower wind resistance.
  • Piles can be less deep. The prototype piles are 1.25 m., as against many that are over four metres on recent schemes.
  • The piles have sensors to detect, when they are out of kilter and need replacing.
  • Currently, wonky masts need to be identified by hands-on measurement or observant drivers.
  • Two masts have been tested to destruction, to see if they match the theory.

But this to me as an Electrical Engineer is the clincher.

Furrer+Frey GB head of UK projects Noel Dolphin says this about the new design.

When they do take it to a mass manufacturing stage, it will be without carbon fibre inside, which presents another opportunity. The other ultimate goal is that the structure is insulating in itself. It’s another big saving if you can remove the insulators on the electrification cantilevers, as they’re expensive in themselves.

It’s all going the way of much more affordable electrification.

I have a few further thoughts.

The Involvement Of Prodrive

Prodrive are best known for their involvement in motorsport, as the home page of their web site indicates.

But as their site also indicates they get involved in other forms of high-performance disruptive engineering, where their experience is relevant.

Prodrive build the prototypes, but won’t build the production masts, although I suspect, their expertise will be used.

The TruckTrain

TruckTrain is a concept with roots in Coventry University that could be off-beam enough to be the new normal.

I have updated my thoughts on the TruckTrain and it is now in a post called The TruckTrain.

My Conclusion About TruckTrains

I like the concept and I can’t see why it would not be successful worldwide.

The Involvement Of TruckTrain With Furrer+Frey

This puzzled me for a time, as undoubtedly, the TruckTrain will be able to use standard electrification.

But in the TruckTrain leaflet, they mention that the TruckTrain has been designed to use single-track short-terminals.

So did they approach Furrer+Frey to find out about electrifying short terminals and the Swiss company felt TruckTrain was a concept they could support?

Obviously, if the TruckTrain is developed to be a battery-electric train, some mini freight terminals will need the ability to charge the TruckTrain.

Could A TruckTrain Be Used to Support Electrification?

Would a TruckTrain be the ideal support vehicle to erect or repair electrification?

If you take the problem, when the wires have been damaged, a TruckTrain could get to the site at 100 mph, much faster than a truck on the road. It could also have a platform to lift the engineers for inspection and repair.

A TruckTrain could be more than just a transport system.


Furrer + Frey’s lightweight composite electrification masts are a good idea.

Teamed with TruckTrains, they could prove a very powerful freight concept, where new mini freight terminals are needed.



April 5, 2022 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Furrer and Frey certainly seems to have got its feet under the table with Network Rail when it comes to OLE, the only other company being Siemens who are also involved in the Master Series design. The development of composite masts does however look like a lead that others haven’t exploited. I’m sure that they’ll be investigating. This’ll be something to watch for the future especially if they can efficiently productionise the concept and find a substitute for carbon fibre.
    You could use graphene as the basis for an alternative but although it’s even stronger than CRF it’s considerably more conductive
    A few other alternatives involving natural fibres are available but the question of weight and strength have their trade-offs, for example a prospective candidate relies on the use of flax, again a material that’s been used in Motorsport.
    I’m less convinced about Truck Train though. Apart from the website it doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere and it’s forerunner trialled 15 -20 years ago never got taken up with any conviction.
    A project with some momentum that is moving forward is Parallel Systems autonomous battery powered bogies which at least have money behind them

    Comment by fammorris | April 6, 2022 | Reply

    • I believe the use of Prodrive is key, as British motorsport, probably knows more about composites than anybody else except a few geniuses in Norfolk, who learned from the master!

      I do wonder if Furrer+Frey feel that a TruckTrain could be the ideal platform for installing or replacing electrification.

      But whatever you say about them, they are certainly supporting British university rail research projects.

      Comment by AnonW | April 6, 2022 | Reply

      • While Prodrive have a good reputation and may be good at prototyping, looking at a small Composites subsidiary I have to say it’s less than average in terms of its contribution to the competitive state and opportunities for growth of the UK’s composites industry. A very good review of the industry carried out in Dec 2020 by Lucintal and presented to Innovate UK, a government agency makes no mention of Prodrive. Reading it I got the impression of an industry that despite offering skills is lacking depth at the industrial scale at some stages of material production and manufacturing capability. I’d like to think that Cranfield and the two universities can make money out of any intellectual property but I’m struggling to identify what is unique beyond the adoption of Carbon Fibre mast construction.
        I mentioned in my previous post that there had been little take-up of something similar to Truck Train. That was a freight DMU built by Windhoff. It turns out that Network Rail specified their High Output Plant System based on these vehicles. These consists can be configured for a variety of applications including OLE installation, so at some stage we’ll see a future FC or BEV variant
        As for dear old Colin Chapman, I’m afraid he died before the advent of composites.

        Comment by fammorris | April 6, 2022

    • The limiting factor for any short length freight multiple solution is likely to be paths (and drivers), not the tech of the motive power itself.

      In much of UK and Europe, passenger service density makes pathing scarce, although a faster freight vehicle has some better chances of being squeezed in. And existing trucks towing 2 or 3 trailersv(road trains) is proven where roads permit.

      In other countries it is a prevalence of long slow trains on majority single track (in the name of precision railroading) that creates pathing problems for short fast trains.

      Comment by MilesT | April 7, 2022 | Reply

  2. Chapman may have died before modern composites, but he knew a lot about the design of plastic bodies and what you could do with it. I’ve never said before, but one of my business partners was Chapman’s Purchasing Manager in the days when Lotus moved to Norfolk, so I know a lot more than most about Chapman’s methods, much of it which can’t be repeated. And as my friend died a few years ago, I can’t authenticate the tales.

    Comment by AnonW | April 6, 2022 | Reply

    • I used to be an avid reader of a now defunct professional engineering magazine (Automotive Design Engineer) in the 60s and 70s and I remember well Lotus design articles. You’re right about the company’s use of glass fibre bodies, yet apart from the original Elite none of Lotus’ cars used glass fibre instead they relied on either a spaceframe or a backbone chassis, and well engineered structures they were too.

      Comment by fammorris | April 7, 2022 | Reply

      • The best story I heard was from a Lotus delivery driver, who picked up my Elan to have a new hood fitted, after the original was cut to steal the radio. He had just picked up an Esprit from the Motorway police in the Midlands. It had been stolen and the police reckoned it was doing close to around 140 mph down the M1. They were fearing the worst, when they saw the Lotus cartwheeling through the sky. When they arrived, they found the doors open and the two thieves had safely legged it.

        Eventually, I did over 130,000 miles in the yellow Elan. It was still immaculate.

        Comment by AnonW | April 8, 2022

  3. […] Note that I first came across the TruckTrain, when I wrote Innovative Composite Masts Look To Reduce Cost And Increase Efficiency Of Rail Electrification. […]

    Pingback by The TruckTrain « The Anonymous Widower | April 7, 2022 | Reply

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