The Brecknell, Willis Highreach pantograph

In 1973 the small West Country firm of Brecknell, Willis & Co. patented a very compact and ingenious design of single arm pantograph. This was a development of an idea from Doug Dixon, a consultant designer to BW & Co.

The pantograph was primarily designed as a lightweight rapid transit pantograph where its compact size when folded, combined with its ability to reach up to high wire height, resulted in it being christened the 'Highreach pantograph'.

The pantograph was, in keeping with most pantographs at the time, spring operated with an elementary head suspension. It featured needle roller bearings at the base as well as cams and chains at the elbow. The operating rods were cleverly hidden inside the hollow arms making an excellent aesthetically pleasing design.

In 1974 (before I became involved with the development of the Highspeed pan) certain strings were pulled which resulted in two (later increased to six in 1976) Highreach pans being fitted to some Clacton/Shenfield class 302 units which were then based at Ilford. There was some 'old pals' arrangement between the then MD of Brecknell, Willis and the depot manager.

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A class 302 set at Stratford in 1980 fitted with a Brecknell Willis Highreach pantograph


After a few years the depot manager moved on and maintenance of the pans deteriorated finally resulting in them being removed around 1980.

However as part of our maintenance planning for the operational debut of the Highspeed pan, I remember visiting Ilford with the BW engineers to examine the Highreach pans just before their demise and they were in remarkably good condition considering their poor maintenance. Although they had had little or no maintenance in the recent past, and the needle roller bearings had all but disintegrated, the pantographs were running daily and presumably collecting current quite satisfactorily.

Quite how they collected current as the second or even third pan in the train defied all the high tech methods we in the R&DD had at the time!

The Highreach pantograph has in itself been a very successful pantograph and formed the basis of the BR/BW Highspeed pantograph.

Click on the picture for a bigger image - photos are the author's

Sheffiled tram

An example of the Highreach pan on a Sheffield tram Birmingham An example of the Highreach pan on a Birmingham tram


An example of the Highreach pan on a Manchester tram Rotem train A BW Highreach pantograph on Delhi Metro in 2011

BW Highreach

A close up    


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