Last week I got a look at the Severn Valley Railway‘s steam crane in operation, it doesn’t get used very often. It was at Eardington station removing the water tank, for restoration and reuse at Bewdley station, further down the line.
The crane is an ex British Railways 30 ton breakdown crane, built by Cowans & Sheldon in 1960. The firm were based in Carlisle and built primarily railway cranes, since they started in 1846. The steam cranes they built in the early 1960’s were the last steam powered cranes built for British Rail. With the demise of steam traction, all the associated coaling and watering facilities also used by steam cranes vanished as well, in the 1970’s they turned their hand to diesel hydraulic cranes. some of which are still in service today.
Although called breakdown cranes, they got used for a multitude of tasks, permanent way work including track renewals, repair and construction of buildings and infrastructure and locomotive repair at smaller depots. The railways operated various sizes of rail mounted crane from hand powered 6 ton models up to the biggest 45 ton steam powered ones.
There’s a in depth look at British Rail breakdown cranes over at The Breakdown Crane Association website, including a list of all those survivors that can be seen on heritage railways. In recent years, some heritage railways, including the Mid Hants and Nene Valley, have operated steam crane demonstrations at gala weekends.
The International Steam site has a page listing all known steam cranes around the world
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