One of the first two high capacity German Kirow rail cranes in the UK was put through its paces recently at a special demonstration by its owner, engineering and construction contractor Balfour Beatty. Balfour Beatty wants to show a cautious and often sceptical railway industry what can be achieved with the new crane, a KRC 800, which has lifting capacities well beyond any other units in the country. The company’s plant division will be hiring the crane both to its parent company and to other contractors. The other KRC 800 in the UK is owned by Grant Rail.

‘Until now you were lucky to find a rail crane with a 12t capacity,’ says Balfour Beatty Rail project manager Malcolm Pearce. ‘This one is rated at 85t.’ And much more important than big numbers, he says, is the crane’s flexibility in operation. It can carry large loads without outriggers and travel with them along the track.

Using two specially designed beams of 12m and 20m length it can lift track sections that are more than 20m long. ‘In particular it can carry fully made up crossing switch sections now coming in for high speed line,’ says Pearce. Importantly for this work, the crane can operate with its two-section telescopic box boom lowered to a horizontal position. In this configuration the total height of the crane plus the load is less than 4m, allowing it to stay underneath the catenary of most electrified lines.

At the demonstration in Balfour Beatty’s rail depot, another key feature of the machine was shown off – its capacity to slew without moving the cab and motor body out of the line of the track.

‘We have designed a special double slewing ring which allows the jib to move without the cab turning,’ explains Ludwig Koehne, the managing director of Kirow, an 80-year-old firm based in Leipzig. It was state-owned until its privatisation seven years ago.

In this mode, with just the jib slewing, the crane is restricted to a plus or minus 30° slew, Koehne says. But this is plenty for most trackside picks. And the cab meanwhile stays clear of any track alongside, letting trains pass (as long as approval for such operations have been granted by the rail authorities).

Allied to the asymmetric slew is the ability to lift loads with outriggers deployed only on one side, again keeping the far track clear, and in general helping with the difficult question of finding good propping points. In some circumstances only one outrigger is needed.

Minimum crane hook radius is 8m, one metre beyond the end of the carrying truck, and the maximum is 20m with the 21m full boom extension. An hydraulic extended counterweight gives balance.

In full slewing mode the boom can be raised to a 45° angle, to a maximum height of 19m, with just over 16m under the hook. The capacity makes the crane useful for bridge work and even for lifts on adjacent sites. It can also rescue derailed trucks and, working in tandem, locomotives.

Kirow makes four models of these cranes from a 25t-rated 200 to the KRT 1200. One selling point for Kirow was its willingness to tailor the design to the needs of the customer. Widths were reduced and axle loadings were varied to suit the requirements of the UK rail network, and delivery was made just 11 months after the order was placed in June 2000.