The struggle against ice on the overhead line (and how we can win it)

Author: Géraud Lausseur

Placed on: 01 March 2019

Tags: overhead line, winter, ice, innovation, availability

Geraud Lasseur - 0179 1 1 uitsnede-close-up klein

Géraud Lausseur

When the overhead line is covered with white frost and ice, this easily leads to problems for tram and train traffic. Strukton Rail has developed a new product to respond to this winter nuisance. The first results look promising. Géraud Lausseur, Global Sales at Strukton Rail, is excited.

The winter weather poses quite some challenges to railway managers, such as snowfall and frozen switches, to mention two notorious examples. But what about white frost or black ice on the overhead line? In daytime, it hardly causes any inconvenience. Ice can hardly build up as trains keep on passing, with their pantographs scraping the overhead line clear of ice. But in the night it is a different story, and the ice layer may grow thicker, with serious consequences.

DSG station BrusselZuid

Damage and failure

Relatively speaking, white frost on the overhead line is the least of the two troubles, but in the Netherlands it occurs most often. White frost between the pantograph and the overhead line causes a lot of crackling and sparking. This may look spectacular, but it is harmful to the overhead line as well as to the train. The sparks may damage the electric systems of the train, and repairing these is expensive. The pantograph and the overhead line can also suffer damage. Black ice on the overhead line is even worse than white frost. The trains cannot drive because the power supply is fully blocked. Trains are cancelled and can only drive again once the ice has melted.


The struggle with the winter weather is a costly affair. Railway managers have empty trains or trams run throughout the night to prevent icing. Another preventive method is the use of a fluid that is sprayed onto the overhead line. This fluid has the drawback that it is only effective to a limited extent, so it is a labour-intensive solution. It is expensive too. Other solutions include heating the contact wire, but this is an expensive method since we do not face white frost or ice layers on the contact wire in our country every day.

“As our fluid retains its efficacy for up to 45 days, two to three treatments per winter will suffice”

Innovation: IceGuard

I venture to say that Strukton has taken a major step in the struggle against these wintry troubles by launching a new concept: IceGuard. This is an automated and patented system with a fluid that is applied to the overhead line, which can successfully prevent problems due to white frost and ice – for up to as many as 45 days! What is more, the fluid is biodegradable. After 28 days, 95 percent of the ingredients will have degraded in a natural way. We have designed an innovative spraying unit for applying the fluid to the overhead line. It allows us to spray about 30 kilometres of overhead line per hour. By means of a sensor in the IceGuard, the spraying unit can follow the wire without touching it: the system is contactless. 

Twice or three times per winter

As our fluid retains its efficacy for up to 45 days, two to three treatments per winter will suffice. Think of the cost-saving potential. These costs can be budgeted in advance, so railway managers will not have to cope with unexpected financial surprises of defective electric systems. Travellers will appreciate the fact that fewer trains are cancelled.Meanwhile, we have conducted several pilots on both heavy-rail and light-rail networks, where we applied the spray at various sections that are prone to white frost. The first results are encouraging. Whereas trains were cancelled due to icing on the overhead line at other sections, the trains at the IceGuard sections continued to run on schedule.

“By means of a sensor in the IceGuard, the spraying unit can follow the wire without touching it”

Use and improvement

We have interesting plans for developing IceGuard further. We have performed many tests that have led to the current version. We also continue to work on realising improvements, such as the possibility of applying the spray to live overhead lines. If we do not need to switch off the power supply anymore – which is currently still required before these operations are started – we would save much time in the execution. It would allow us to spray more kilometres of overhead line in a shorter time frame. Additionally, we want to increase the speed at which IceGuard can be applied: 80 kilometres per hour instead of the current speed of 30. It will be quite a while before this has been accomplished. In the meantime, we can apply our magical ice-repellent fluid to overhead lines for every interested customer. I am confident that within the foreseeable future, this winter issue will be a thing of the past.