Brecknell Willis High Speed Pantograph

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The Brecknell Willis High Speed Pantograph is one of the four standard pantographs in use on British railway locomotives and multiple units. It was designed during the late 1970s / early 1980s by Brecknell Willis and British Rail Research Division as part of ongoing research into developing a pantograph capable of speeds over the 100 mph (160 km/h) limit of the Stone Faiveley AMBR pantograph, which was the standard type fitted at the time.

The research was mainly carried out at the Old Dalby Test Track in Leicestershire and then on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). The WCML tests, between London and Preston, were initially done with the pantograph attached to the top of Laboratory Car 6 'Prometheus' test coach during December 1978. After some initial problems with these tests, the pantograph was modified at Derby / Old Dalby but returned to WCML testing in July 1979 between London and Carlisle. After this testing, Lab 6 was moved to the East Coast Main Line for maximum height testing.

The first locomotive to be fitted with the pantograph was Class 86 no. 86244 during February 1980 with a second locomotive, Class 87 no. 87005 during late 1981.

Testing was also carried out on the APT-P during the development of the pantograph as this enabled high speed testing to be conducted at up to 150mph.


The pantograph is the mainstay within the UK railway. It has also been exported across the world, being used on the US high speed train Acela and Eurostar Class 373.

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