New York marathon

28 January 2010


With New York City’s annual crane moratorium approaching, ABLE Rigging had five days to take down three cranes at the heart of the busy city. Will North spoke to master rigger Robert LaChapelle about the jobs, and about the tower crane industry in New York

New York’s rigging industry is essentially shut down every year during the holiday season, between the run up to Thanksgiving at the end of November and the start of the New Year. For more than a month, the city enforces a moratorium on erecting, climbing or disassembling tower cranes.

ABLE Rigging had clients with three cranes ready to be taken down as the moratorium approached. Taking them down and moving them out of the city ready to be rented again would take considerable planning.

Robert LaChapelle is master rigger at ABLE Rigging. It was the natural career for him, he says. “My family has been in the rigging business since the 1930s. Everyone in the family is involved in the business, so you could say it is in my blood. I am a licensed New York master rigger.

“ABLE specialises in erection, jumping and disassembly. The other side of the business is heavy industrial and high-rise rigging. Recent landmark projects for that side of the business have been the East River Power Plant repowering project, which took lots of jacking and sliding work, and a 500Mw combined cycle power plant project in Astoria, where we did some big strand jack lifts.

“The two ABLE rigging divisions, tower cranes and heavy industrial, existed first; in the 1990s we added a general equipment rental business, ABLE Equipment.”

ABLE’s marathon started on the night of 18 November, at 11West 51st Street. The developer and general contractor on the project was Laval Corp; ABLE was working for Crimson Construction. Crimson had been using a freestanding Favco 220 with a 90ft boom to lift 18,000lb concrete buckets. The crane had been erected at the job site in September. The crane was erected with 11 mast sections. ABLE took the Favco crane down using a Liebherr LTM 1250, with 77 USt counter weight, and a Terex RT 335. The job took 11 hours.

Next up was a Liebherr 540 HC-L, working for Century Maximum Construction on 123Washington Street. Since being installed in September 2008, the external climber had been erected to a final height of 760ft, using 38 20ft mast sections and six tie-ins. The crane was fitted with a 131ft boom and 100,000lb counterweight. It was being used for concrete pouring and lifting curtain wall sections, weighing up to 25,000lb.

The crane was climbed down over five days before the final disassembly job. ABLE removed 28 tower sections and six tie-ins before moving on to the final stage of the job, on 21 November. When the rigging crew removed the declimbed crane, it stood at 120ft, on six mast sections. Final disassembly took 16.5 hours. ABLE used an LTM 1250 with 159 USt counterweight and a 204ft boom, assisted by a Link-Belt RTC 8040.

The final job came on 22 November, at 45th Street. The developer on the project was Waterscape Resort and the lead contractor was Pavarini McGovern. ABLE was working for Broadway Concrete, who had used the Favco 220 with 105ft boom to lift 18,000lb loads for the building’s superstructure. The luffer had first been erected in August 2008. It was tied externally, and had been climbed to a height of 455ft, using 35 mast sections and four tie-ins.

The Favco was climbed down to its maximum freestanding height, with 13 mast sections, over three days before the final disassembly. Using a Liebherr LTM 1250 with 104 USt counter weight and 204ft boom, and a Link-Belt RTC 8040, ABLE took the crane down in 12.5 hours.

“The crane on West 51st Street was a freestanding, 11 section, Favco. The other two cranes were external climbing luffers. We erected all of the cranes, and jumped the climbers when needed. The 45th Street crane was jumped four times, and the Washington Street crane seven or eight times. They were each declimbed in the days running up to the final disassembly; the 45th Street crane took around three days to bring down to its final height, the Washington Street crane took almost a week.

“The West 51st Street job site is in the Rockefeller Center, home to TV network NBC and the Radio City Music Hall, as well as a lot of commercial towers. We had to work at night to minimize disruption to these businesses.

“All three cranes were close to subways. That meant we had to very carefully monitor the ground loadings put down by the assist crane. We had to identify sub surface structures and plan supports and mats to minimize ground pressure. We used the bare minimum counterweight needed on the assist crane, to keep outrigger loads as low as possible.

“On the Washington Street job, we were working in a very restricted space, so we were only able to use half outriggers on both sides of the crane.

“All three jobs required multiple street closures. We had to close both 45th Street and 51st Street. On Washington Street, one block from Ground Zero in the middle of the financial district, we had to close three streets.

“The real challenge for all of these jobs was the logistics. We had to move more than 40 trailer loads out of the city, with no staging area on any of the job sites: two of the cranes were going back to yards in New Jersey, and the third was going to Morrow’s yard in upstate New York.

“When you plan to erect, climb or disassemble a tower crane in New York City, you need to submit an engineer’s plan to the department of building’s cranes and derricks unit. They inspect it carefully and often come back with changes that we need to incorporate into the plan. From our engineer, to the city, to execution of the lift, takes around a month’s work. So these lifts were the culmination of more than three months’ worth of work.

“As well as looking closely at rigging plans, the city requires that everyone on your rigging crew is documented and has completed a mandatory 30-hour training course. They bought this in after the two accidents in 2008.

“Since the accidents, there’s been a bunch of good ideas from the city. They tightened inspection of cranes, and they banned the whole Kodiak line [the same make as the crane that collapsed in the Upper East Side, in May 2008] from the city, mainly on the basis of their age.

“I think they need to do more on the inspection side though. They are performing some radiography tests on latticework sections, but they’re mainly relying on visual inspections. To do the sort of metallurgical inspections of components like slewing rings, like the one that cracked on that Kodiak, and of climbing units, which are the most risk critical parts of a tower crane, the city needs to bring in highly specialized third-party inspection companies.

“Being able to see a cradle-to-grave history of each crane is a great idea, but so far it hasn’t come to fruition.

“ABLE works as a standalone rigging company, a lot of rigging crews in New York aren’t made up of specialists; the crew rigging the crane might work as masons, or another trade, by day, and then work as riggers by night. My crew is all specialists: led by rigging foreman Vincent J. Bill. All any of us do is run cranes, rig them and dredge them. That day in, day out, experience is the only thing that makes this work safe,” says LaChapelle.

“Experience, professionalism and preparation are the keys to ABLE Rigging’s ability to execute these three unique and challenging jobs in such a short time frame. Safety comes through proper planning and preparation from the start of the installation till the last section comes out.”


11West 51st Street 11West 51st Street
11West 51st Street 11West 51st Street
45th Street 45th Street
45th Street 45th Street
123 Washington Street 123 Washington Street
123 Washington Street 123 Washington Street