Breakdown and Civil Engineering Cranes

Unsung heroes of the railway system

In addition to steam locomotives, the railways relied on steam cranes of varying sizes for a variety of tasks being carried out across the system.

Railway accidents required massive lifting capabilities and so the 50 ton crane was introduced. On the other hand, for work around yards and out on the tracks with civil engineering work, small cranes were employed. Just as with the demise of steam engines, in time, steam cranes gave way to diesel powered cranes.

50 ton breakdown to 10 ton civil engineering cranes

There are four rail mounted cranes, three steam and one diesel, on the Railway the most impressive of which are the two 50 ton breakdown cranes.


50 tons breakdown cranes

On the Railway there are two 50 ton breakdown cranes, one belonging to the Society (currently out of service) and the other to the Bahamas Locomotive Society which is operation and undertakes heavy lifting on the Railway. These cranes are examples of the heaviest type of crane manufactured for the big four railway companies (LMS, LNER, GWR & SR) when steam was at its zenith.

50 Ton Cowens Sheldon Breakdown Crane no. 1005/50

This particular crane was built by Cowens Sheldon for the LMS in 1930, originally as a 36 ton capacity crane. However, it soon became clear that a larger capacity would be required so William Stanier had most of these cranes up-graded to 50 Tons capacity at 18 foot radius in 1939.

When new, the crane cost the LMS £5,574 and was originally numbered MP 4. It is thought to have been stationed at Leeds. However, once the up-grading from 36 to 50 Ton capacity was complete the crane was stationed at Crewe-North Motive Power Depot where it remained until replaced by a 75 Ton diesel crane. No. 1005/50 was then transferred to finish its working life with British Rail at Wigan Shed.

Whilst at Crewe it is known that the crane was involved in the clearance of several major accidents as well as much track and railway infrastructure renewal and upgrade work, including the electrification of the West Coast Mainline.

The crane was purchased by the KWVR in 1982 and, just like history repeating itself, it was acquired to replace a smaller 30 Ton steam crane which has since moved from the KWVR. The crane was used on numerous occasions from track renewal to locomotive lifting in Haworth Yard, but, just like steam locomotives, wear and tear takes its toll. The crane is currently at Haworth stripped down for overhaul back to working condition. However, it likely to be many years before it is back in working order.

50 Ton Craven Breakdown Crane no. 1015/50

The crane, built in 1931, has self-propelling capabilities to enable it to move slowly around the chosen worksite. The self-propelling mechanism is not designed to be used over long distances but, rather, is intended that it would get to and from a worksite by being hauled by a locomotive of suitable size and power.

The crane was first based at Willesden (London) and assisted in the clearance of several accident scenes during its working life including the devastating one at Harrow & Wealdstone on 8th October 1952. The crane finished its 50 year working career at Allerton Traction Maintenance Depot. The boiler it now carries was fitted new in 1950 with the crane receiving its last works overhaul in 1977.

Acquired at the same time as the crane were the Southern Railway Hi-bar wagon, which is used for the carriage of the spreader beam, and a Unigate Dairies Tanker used to carry extra water for the crane.

The crane has been used in the restoration of several vehicles where heavy lifting was required. When the Bahamas Locomotive Society had to relocate from Dinting in Derbyshire, Crane No. 1015/50 came into its own by lifting heavy items in order to give easier access for loading to road vehicles prior to the move.

More recently the crane was the star of the show when removing and replacing Bridge 11. During this process, the crane lifted the concrete replacement sections onto site, before removing the old bridge and lifting the heavy concrete beams into place before trains could continue operating between Keighley and Oxenhope.

15 Ton Taylor & Hubbard Self Propelled Diesel Crane

This crane was used mainly in Ashford at the pre-assembly depot. It is capable of moving under its own power around its worksite and does not need to be attached to a locomotive until it is moved from one worksite to another. The crane’s braking system is by Westinghouse Brake & Signal Company and are of the electrically released mechanical type.

When built, the crane was originally fitted with a Leyland GU500 engine. During one of the cranes overhauls whilst in British Rail ownership, however, this engine was replaced with its present Dorman 6LE engine. This provides power both for the crane and the self-propelling movement of the crane and is done through a single axle on each bogie.

For safety, the crane has always been fitted with electrical weighing gear to ensure overload does not occur. This was originally fitted by the manufacturer Ekco but, once again, during an overhaul this was replaced by Wylie load weighing gear.

The crane was withdrawn from British Rail service in 1994 and came to the Worth Valley for preservation in 2001.

Whilst in train formation, the crane jib sits on a runner which has been built on the frames of an ex-1935 Electric Multiple Unit. The crane jib runner is numbered D570279 and weighs 18.7 tons with an additional 5.4 tons of jib weight. Both the crane and runner are air braked but whilst running in train formation it is vacuum piped.

10 ton Grafton Permanent Way Crane No. 2511

This crane was built around 1945 for the London & North Eastern Railway by Grafton Cranes of Vulcan Works, Bedford. It is thought to have spent its entire working life in the Wakefield area, and was purchased from the Crofton Permanent Way Depot for use on the Worth Valley Railway.

The LNER painted these cranes apple green although British Railways repainted them into a yellow livery, which was standard for Permanent Way cranes and latterly for brake-down cranes also.

The runner wagon, which houses the jib when not in use and the crane is being transported from site to site, was not available for purchase when the Railway bought the crane so, to allow use on the KWVR a replacement was created. This involved converting an ex Southern Region parcels van by removing the body sides and installing in the floor area, a suitable jib holder for the jib to rest upon.

The crane has performed well for our permanent way gang in assisting with the replacement of track on the branch. Having been fully restored to working order and painted in LNER apple green, this useful crane, as well as assisting in civil engineering tasks, can often be seen in steam in Oakworth Yard giving lifting demonstrations, especially during galas.