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Road Rail: Remaining on track

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Road Rail

The history of rail transport dates back centuries, with early wagonways providing the template for what was to become the primary form of land transport throughout the world.

Those wagons developed and as the years passed by, ideas soon became reality with even the most rudimentary form of transport becoming the next step in travelling vast distances across networks of steel, wood and concrete.

The steam age became the next crucial stage, with John Blenkinsop designing the first practical railway locomotive in Britain in 1811. Mechanical rail transport systems then began to appear in England during the 1820s and this has remained the main operating system ever since.

As rail transport has developed further, and the early locomotives have transformed into the latest high speed trains, the need to maintain the railways has never been more important. Tracks require regular maintenance as infrequent maintenance can cause accidents, especially with fast moving trains.

With tracks continuing to connect up key locations within key destinations the world over, specialist equipment is being utilised to keep us on the move – step forward the trusty road rail unit. Designed to operate on both rail tracks and conventional roads, a road rail vehicle is a specialist unit used for railroad right-of-way maintenance operations. The vehicle either starts life as a converted road unit – which has retained its rubber tires – or as a purpose built machine which includes specially fitted steel wheels, ideal for travelling on tracks.

Road Rail

The technology utilised in road rail vehicles is believed to have originated in the 1940s, following development by Fairmont Railway Motors. The company was a leading manufacturer of rail vehicles and designed the road rail technology to improve flexibility of their units.

Road rail vehicles are extremely important for servicing and maintaining tracks in cities and populated areas where tracks are showing signs of wear and tear. Repairing tracks is important for maintaining safety, but also to reduce noise pollution and for financial reasons.

Although the intended purpose of road rail vehicles is to allow for easy travel along the railway lines, the units can operate along regular roads until they are given a change of use. This allows the vehicles to reach their intended destination with ease and at the same time reduces the need for track-only vehicles which can add congestion to the lines.

Track vehicles must be certified, ensuring that the maintenance, design and construction all comply with RIS-1530-PLT, the railway industry standard which is issued by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). Whilst the RIS-1530-PLT is not an enforced standard, it is a standard which Network Rail looks to when on-track plant is required for its projects.

Self-propelled maintenance vehicles are often employed to provide an alternative unit for certain operations such as shunting, a process which involves organising items of rolling stock. The shunting process can be dangerous, so self-propelled vehicles such as a forklift truck fitted with railway wheels can provide the required traction for the process.

Road Rail

With railways continuing to prove their worth and plans already in the pipeline for more high speed trains throughout the UK alone, the continued maintenance of the tracks is something which will remain a focus within the industry.

Transforming track travel 

Since its inception, the technology that was created for road rail projects has been adapted and improved and at times even modified for different types of vehicles, including buses and coaches. A number of attempts have been made in the past to convert these vehicles into rail-capable-units, however not all of these attempts have proved that successful.

During the 1930s, a few attempts were made to convert British buses into road rail units, in particular on the disused Nicky Line, which once linked the towns of Hemel Hempstead and Luton. This conversion was implemented by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1932, using a Ro-Railer, a commercial single decker bus. The vehicle was tested but was not taken forward.

Although the attempt to convert a bus into a road-rail vehicle in Britain proved unsuccessful, it didn’t stop German and Australian engineers giving the idea another go during the 1950s and 1970s. The German Federal Railway (Deutsche Bundesbahn) operated a number of buses, known as Schi-Stra-Bus, from the 1950s to the 1970s across different tracks, whilst the New South Wales railways utilised road rail vehicles across routes during the 1970s.

The Schi-Stra-Bus was a two-way vehicle equipped with a diesel engine, giving an output of 88 kilowatts (120 PS). The vehicle had a speed of 80 km/h whilst on the road, a speed of 120 km/h whilst on rails, had two biaxial bases and was fitted out with all necessary facilities for road use. The road rail bus also included two hydraulic lifting devices to allow for access onto track and road and had seating for 43.

Road Rail

Another specialised form of road rail transport is the Road Transferable Locomotive, commonly known as a RTL, which is a truck prime mover with railway wheels. The RTL was pioneered in the early 1990s by Australian National, a railway operator in Australia, with the aim of creating a locomotive that could transfer from one branch line carrying mainly wheat to another parallel branch line, where the rail connection is very roundabout.

The vehicle however suffered from a number of disadvantages including the fact that loads were severely limited when the track was steeply graded, as well as issues with the rubber traction wheels which slipped on the steel rails when wet. The life of the rubber tires was also rather short.

The Canadian company Brandt was inspired by the RTL model and used it to create a large converted truck tractor which could be used as a locomotive and could move by road to where they were needed. These types of vehicles are mainly still used for permanent way maintenance but can also be employed as rescue locomotives or even used in normal service, where they are suitable for smaller operators.

Road Rail Cranes Ltd

Formed in 2013, Road Rail Cranes Ltd specialise in the hire of road rail cranes to the Network Rail infrastructure. Road Rail Cranes Ltd’s cranes are available for hire by any contractor working on rail infrastructure projects, with the majority of works involving footbridges, signal gantries, REBs and ASPs.

Road Rail Cranes Ltd employs the Road Rail Crane AC 40 City All Terrain Crane unit, which is a 40t capacity mobile crane. The crane’s outrigger supports can be set to three positions and also includes a search hook which has a lifting capacity of 12t. All lifting operations are planned and supervised by an appointed person and crane supervisor in accordance with LOLER Regs 1998.

Since its inception, Road Rail Cranes Ltd has been involved in a number of prestigious projects, including the Cardiff re-signalling project, the Watford scheme and a re-signalling project in Reading. The Cardiff project was the first scheme that Road Rail Cranes Ltd was involved with and it proved to be an important primary project.

Road Rail

Discussing the company’s involvement with the works in Cardiff, Road Rail Cranes Ltd Managing Director, Steve Williams, said:

“This was a high profile job for us which was completed for Network Rail and a number of leading contractors. The project proved that we could do exactly what we said we could do and was a great starting point.”

Although the company has only been in operation for a year it is already building up a fantastic reputation in the industry. Moving forward, Road Rail Cranes Ltd is involved with the ongoing Crossrail scheme, working on signal gantries.

Steve said:

“We pride ourselves on the innovation of the crane which provides a professional lifting solution to all our clients. We are now looking at building upon the relationships that we have already achieved in the industry and at the same time expanding our fleet.”

SRS Sjölanders AB

With more than 40 years’ experience in the rail industry, SRS Sjölanders AB is the world leading manufacturer of multi-flexible road rail vehicles. The company designs, develops and manufactures various types of hydrostatically driven road rail vehicles, which includes special equipment for maintenance and construction of trucks, track superstructure and overhead contact wire systems.

SRS Sjölanders AB produces between 15 and 20 road rail vehicles per year for projects which span across the world, most commonly in Sweden, the UK and Holland. Products include the VRB 17, the RB 25M and the BRB 12-5, amongst others.

The company is aware that maintaining a vehicle’s performance is also vital for clients and so has a dedicated service department to ensure all its products remain in full working order. SRS Service is available worldwide and can offer clients the full package, from spare parts to tailor-made maintenance and service solutions.

Peter Sundström, Managing Director of SRS Sjölanders AB, said:

“We have been working within the rail sector for the past 40 years because it is an area of industry which we have had lots of success in – we are the market leader when it comes to road rail vehicles.”

Peter added:

“We are a user friendly company, with a good reliable product. Some of our machines have been running for 30 years.”

For more information about SRS Sjölanders AB, please visit: www.srs-roadrail.se.

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