Mind the gap

20 June 2019

For travellers on London's underground railway, the warning to 'Mind the gap' quickly becomes part of the background of daily life: the city's old, curved, station platforms don't fit neatly with tube carriages, meaning there's often a substantial hop from train to platform. That phrase, painted on every platform edge and spoken over the tannoy at every stop, seeks to prevent us hurling ourselves absentmindedly under the train. By and large it works.

For crane users working around railway lines, it could also be a simple summation of a key part of the lift planning process. Here, the warning is not to avoid falling into the gap, but to ensure there is enough of a gap between crane and passing trains. In this issue, Julian Champkin talks to the CPA's Tim Watson about a recent piece of guidance from the UK plant hire association's mobile crane group on working alongside railways. As Watson explains, a key step in planning these jobs is to calculate the compound collapse radius: where, in the worst instance, a crane would land if it fell towards the track. By paying attention to this calculation—including not just the boom but any jib extension, and the load itself—lift planners can avoid the risk of striking a passing train.

The CPA's document itself minds another gap: an information gap between rail infrastucture owner Network Rail's requirements and the crane companies working along railway lines. None of the material in the document is new: instead, it brings together all of Network Rail's requirements in a single easily-accessible document. It's a smart contribution by the CPA, clarifying and making available information that may otherwise have been overlooked. By working closely with Network Rail through the development of the guidance, the CPA has also closed gaps in how the crane and rail industries understand and implement the requirements.

There's another important gap in the crane industry: that between supply and demand for skilled operators. Over the last few years, the European mobile crane and special transport owners' association ESTA has been developing a new European Crane Operators Licence, ECOL. The idea here is to develop a certification scheme that allows operators in Europe to work across borders. That makes it easier for crane companies to work in neighbouring countries; it will also mean operators can go where the work is, following demand not just in their own country but across continent.

The scheme doesn't, in itself, close the gap between supply and demand: the industry as a whole needs to work with government and educators to bring people into the sector. But it helps make training more efficient for employers, and more valuable for employees. Now, with ECOL well underway, with more employers, crane manufacturers and regulators supporting the scheme, an important gap between national certification schemes is being closed.