Directly and Indirectly Reducing Visual Impact of Electric Railway Overhead Contact Systems


Jack W. Boorse

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, mode - tram/light rail


Visual impact, Trolley wire, Traction power distribution, Light rail transit, Esthetics, Design, Contact wire, Art, Aesthetics


This paper discusses the visual impact of the overhead wiring, known more formally as an overhead contact system, that is an integral part of a light rail transit network. In situations in which this type of impact causes community concern, the traditional approach has been to employ design concepts that minimize the amount of visible electrical hardware that is installed. This is a valid and worthy objective, but there are additional ways to address this issue. This paper explores various components of a traction power distribution system, including contact wires, feeder cables, and supporting structures. It discusses past and current practices to make some of these components less intrusive and suggests additional methods that might be employed. It also suggests, in some situations, applying design concepts that would address the issue of visual impact in a different manner. The essence of this initiative is that the visible elements might be reconfigured into a form of street art so that their appearance would actually enhance the local environment. It suggests that the concept of art in transit, now largely oriented to station areas, might be expanded to include the traction power infrastructure along the entire line.