HomeElectrificationPaving the way in European electrification

Paving the way in European electrification

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As governments and commercial enterprises focus on reaching ambitious sustainability targets, rail electrification is an issue at the forefront of decision-makers’ minds both in the UK and Europe. That said, the rollout is not without its challenges.

Despite investing in the electrification of more than 2,000km of track since 2010, almost two thirds of the UK rail network remain unaddressed, leading the Rail Industry Association (RIA) to conclude it was failing to hit the requirements of its transport decarbonisation plan which sets the ambitious target for a net-zero transport sector by 2050.

This story is mirrored in Europe where, despite clear and decisive action from the European Commission, which has seen a 31% increase in electrified rail since 1990, just 57% of its total rail network is covered.

While the reasons for slow progress remain unclear, the same cannot be said for rail’s innovative supply chain community, which continues to focus more attention on delivering solutions to harness momentum and support for electrification and deliver efficiency in project rollout.

Paul Whittle, group product manager for Rail at Gripple explains why innovation is crucial to unlocking the potential of rail electrification and how its SwiftLine Rail Dropper, approved by Network Rail in the UK and the Federal Office of Transport in Switzerland, is helping engineers maximise possession windows to drive efficiency on electrification projects.

Unlocking innovation

The benefits of electrification are far-reaching, and a lot of positivity can be taken in the fact that interest and support for rail electrification continues to grow. But to achieve success there are many challenges to overcome. It’s our job, as an innovation-led supplier to the rail industry, to keep looking forward and deliver problem-solving solutions that address issues and drive efficiency. To this end, having the right products on hand is essential to ensuring work can be completed safely and efficiently.

In 2023, we launched the SwiftLine Rail Dropper, an innovative dropper designed to expedite rail electrification projects by cutting installation times on key elements of work to overhead line equipment (OLE). This not only reduces project durations but also enhances safety and enables more work to be completed within possession windows, optimising the use of limited time.

Highly regarded in the UK market, having already undertaken extensive trials with engineers and contractors, our team is now heavily engaged in trials across Europe. Meeting with contractors and engineers in many European countries, we have begun trials in France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, and Switzerland. In the latter, the Federal Office of Transport (the supervisory authority responsible for rail) has added the product to its directory of approved products, following in the footsteps of Network Rail in the UK and affirming its trust in this innovative solution.

These trials have also enabled us to connect with the engineering and contractor communities we serve. At the heart of it all, the SwiftLine Rail Dropper is a solution that keeps rail engineers safe and ensures possession windows are maximised for routine and emergency maintenance. We value their trust and feedback just as much as the supervisory bodies and there is a lot to be said for the time we spend on-site with these teams. From the beginning, our goal was to understand not just the challenges with electrification more broadly, but also with the installations themselves. It is this feedback and understanding that has allowed us to develop a product that is easier, faster, and ultimately safer to install than a traditional dropper, maximising the benefits for all stakeholders.

30/01/2023 Strathaven Scotland – Fitting Gripple dropper kit to overhead lines.

Delivering benefits

OLE installation and maintenance work is a historically difficult process, often cited as one of the most time-consuming aspects of rail projects. In delivering the SwiftLine Rail Dropper, our goal was simple – solve this challenge with a simplified, engineered solution. The result is a more efficient and safer dropper that allows engineers to complete work faster, with less effort, and less environmental impact.

At the core of the dropper’s design is a simple, secure quarter turn catenary fixing and an Auto Torque contact wire clamp, which is pre-set to guarantee correct torque every time. This clever design ensures an entirely tool-free installation, with no additional training required – greatly reducing project durations, but also enhancing safety by reducing the traditional reliance on hand tools to manually set the torque. Historically, this has resulted in inconsistent tensions across the line, leading to vulnerabilities in the product’s safety. With the SwiftLine Rail Dropper, this issue is entirely eradicated.

The dropper also comes fully pre-assembled, which means there is no need to cut, crimp, and fix on-site. This saves installers hours on installations and also enhances safety by enabling more work to be completed within possession windows, significantly reducing the time spent working at height and in the dark. Available in a choice of pre-cut lengths and height adjustable to meet a variety of drop lengths, engineers in the trial are also enjoying the versatility available with the product, allowing one dropper to do more than previously possible.

Manufactured end-to-end in the UK, at our state-of-the-art, vertically integrated facilities, we are also able to offer a greater degree of reactivity in the market. In Europe, we have found that many countries deal with different diameters of wire, and by controlling our own supply chain we have quickly made solutions to suit regional standards.

Vertical integration also ensures we maintain complete control over the quality of the product, which goes through rigorous testing before being delivered to site. This has proven particularly beneficial to contractors from a traceability perspective, where engraved product codes allow installers to trace products right back to the first cut, guaranteeing quality and ensuring they have the trust in the product required to install confidently.


The first in a series of game-changing innovations we are launching to support rail electrification, the SwiftLine Rail Dropper embodies our commitment to helping customers achieve more with less. This will undoubtedly have a decided impact on delivering against the ambitious targets set.

It’s clear amongst the engineering community, both in the UK and Europe, that there is a real appetite for change. While it is a long journey ahead, every innovation Gripple and other supply chain partners deliver, makes that journey a little easier, providing solutions that are fit for purpose for the next generation of railways. That is the key to unlocking its potential.

Image credit: Gripple

Rail Engineer is the leading independent quality monthly magazine for engineers, project managers, directors and leading rail executive decision makers. Head to www.railsubs.com to make a free subscription to RailEngineer magazine or one of its sister publications.


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