Moxon Architects with Mott MacDonald's entry, the Integrated OLS

Finalists named in railway design competition

Finalists of a competition to produce more attractive structures to support overhead power lines on the railway have been named.

Network Rail is in the early stages of a £2bn programme to electrify more than 2,000 miles of Britain’s railway over the next seven years, and the planned HS2 line will also be electrified.

In some places, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and conservation areas, existing gantry and cantilever structures might be deemed ‘ugly’ or obtrusive, so alternatives are needed.

The Aesthetic Overhead Line Structures competition was launched by the rail industry’s FutureRailway, in conjunction with HS2 Ltd and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in December 2013.

The objective was to produce designs that are more visibly appealing to line-side neighbours, have construction and installation costs close to that of existing structures, and are “relatively easy” to install particularly in hard to access locations.

From the initial entries, ten were shortlisted to produce scale models. These were put on exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York for several weeks, where they generated a great deal of interest among visitors. Over 600 comments were received on the different design approaches.

Following two intense days of judging, the finalists were named on 7 May. They are Bystrup Architecture, Design and Engineering, from Denmark, for their HST design, COBE, also from Denmark (Tomahawk), and Moxon Architects with Mott MacDonald (Integrated OLS).

A fourth entry, the Needle System by IDOM UK, Alan Baxter & Associates and SEMI, was highly commended.

Bystrup says its High Speed T Mast reduces the overhead rail line to two elements: a triangular cable network carrying the power, and a T-shaped mast that supports twin systems serving adjacent tracks. With a single line of T masts between tracks, there are no masts forming an obtrusive barrier between the track edge and its surroundings.

COBE’s Tomahawk is a family of overhead line structures that minimises the visual impact of the entire line by reducing the overall height, reducing the number of structural elements and using contemporary materials and manufacturing techniques in a simple design that will work visually when repeated hundreds of times throughout the landscape.

Integrated OLS, from Moxon Architects with Mott MacDonald, uses slender, tapering masts to reduce visual impact. The scheme simplifies the components of the power line support equipment, replacing insulating pots with built-in insulating properties through the use of a densified laminated wood.

David Clarke, director of FutureRailway, said: “It has been a fascinating and enjoyable process and it was very clear to the panel that every shortlisted team had put a huge amount of hard work and dedication into their designs. We have selected three worthy finalists and I look forward to seeing each design developed further.”

Mark Howard, HS2 Ltd head of power and traction, said: “I am very impressed by the high standard of the designs. All those shortlisted have really understood the technical practicalities while coming up with eye-catching structures.”

The three finalists will now receive funding to carry out technical development of their design and consider the route to market. This stage will include design of end and turning structures and interfaces with the catenary system, modelling of forces and loads and consideration of how to build and install the structures.

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