02 January 2020
We have introduced the Skyrailer 400 to work as safely, economically and efficiently as possible on the railway’s overhead lines. Equipped with caterpillar treads, a unique articulated arm and numerous innovations, this machine sets a new standard for railway hydraulic platforms. All the more so when it comes to working on overhead lines.
On the basis of our specific requirements and needs, the French machinery manufacturer Néotec has built a custom version of the Skyrailer 400 that is now being used in the Netherlands and Belgium. In the near future, we will be adding further units of this exceptional hydraulic platform to our machinery portfolio.
Several years ago, Strukton Catenary Europe, which is responsible for constructing new overhead lines, and for refurbishing and renovating existing overhead lines and load structures, came up with the idea of constructing a special hydraulic platform for use on railways. ‘The usual solution for working at heights in our sector is a roller crane with a personnel basket,’ says Ben Kosse, Site Manager at Strukton Catenary Europe. ‘While this works reasonably well, ultimately it only is an excavator with a personnel basket. Its movements are fairly jolting and it is not really user friendly.’
‘We felt things could be safer and more effective.’
Kosse’s colleague Eddy Emck, who works at Strukton Catenary Europe as project manager, has seen quite a few different types of hydraulic platforms over the years: ‘I have always been interested in the “ultimate machine” for use with overhead lines. Not a standard solution that has been converted for work on railways, but a machine built from the ground up to be able to work safely and ergonomically on overhead lines. A few years ago I saw a version of the Skyrailer at a trade fair and immediately thought: this machine has potential for us. With a machine like this as the starting point, we developed the concept in further detail.’
Together with Harold de Groot, Chief Strukton Rail Workshop, Emck and Kosse developed a Programme of Requirements (PoR) for the newly to be built hydraulic platform. ‘Naturally, we incorporated our many years of experience with hydraulic platforms into the PoR,’ says Emck.
‘Our machine not only had to be safe, but it also had to be ergonomic and efficient in its deployment.’
For example, we wanted a simple entry into the personnel basket, jolt-free movement, and caterpillar treads to enable the machine to quickly switch to a different track when necessary.’ De Groot adds: ‘Because we wanted to manage the machines in-house, I took a good look at elements such as maintenance, repairs and warranties from a workshop perspective. On the basis of the PoR, we subsequently invited a number of parties to present their plans for the hydraulic platform. The French company Néotec was one of the invitees. After due consideration of all relevant aspects, their Skyrailer 400 proved to be the best option.’
The development and acquisition of the Skyrailer 400 quickly grew into a multidisciplinary project within Strukton. For example, Joep van Helmondt, Project Manager at Strukton Rail Equipment, was approached to incorporate the hydraulic platforms into the crane pool: ‘We look after the management, transport, scheduling, fuel and related matters for the Skyrailers. In principle, the various departments, such as Strukton Catenary Europe, rent the hydraulic platforms from us. And not from an external leasing party. This not only produces economic benefits, but it also yields much greater flexibility in terms of the deployability of the machines.’
Because safety is of crucial importance when working on overhead lines, Erik van Norden, QHSE Consultant with Strukton Rail, was also involved in the project at an early stage: ‘A working group specifically devoted to railway hydraulic platforms was created at the beginning of this year. I conducted an analysis of often used hydraulic platforms in the Netherlands for the working group. I defined twelve known safety risks for this purpose, such as collision hazard, falling hazard and high voltage hazard. Néotec’s Skyrailer was the only machine that scored positive on all of these 12 risks. The other hydraulic platforms included in the analysis did not get beyond 3 or 4 out of 12.’
The Skyrailer 400 C14, which is how Strukton Rail’s specific model is designated, is unique in the market. The crane’s jib was specifically developed to overcome restrictions associated with working on overhead lines. Furthermore, the hydraulic platform is equipped with rubber caterpillar treads, which makes it possible to easily drive the machine onto and away from the tracks. The personnel cage provides space for 3 persons or 400 kg, and has a maximum working height of 14 metres. The safety and ergonomic features have been thought through to the finest details. For example, the machine has a special ‘transport configuration’, as a result of which the personnel cage cannot come into contact with the overhead lines by accident.
In the meantime, Néotec has supplied Strukton Rail with three Skyrailer 400 units. Two are currently being used in Belgium and one in the Province of Groningen in the Netherlands. Another five Skyrailers are expected to be delivered by the end of 2020. Emck:
‘It’s a machine to be proud of.’
‘The initial experiences of people in the field are also positive. Naturally, a new machine always takes some time getting used to, but we are devoting a lot of attention to training. We even have an app that allows people to practice with the machine in a virtual environment.’