The road-rail vehicle (RRV) has become a common sight on the railway and the most popular is probably that based on a construction excavator – the 360 degree type RRV that is fundamentally a digger fitted with rail wheels. These machines can not only excavate, they are also used as a small general-purpose crane. They are known as the ‘Swiss army knives’ of the infrastructure.

The RRV is a relatively new piece of equipment that really started to gain use in the 1990s following the privatisation of rail. Flexibility and the relatively low capital cost of RRVs made them popular.

Rapid development

Machines from the pioneering days of RRVs were described by some as ‘agricultural machine conversions’, although that is slightly unfair. In the early days, there was a myriad of different adoptions – some of which proved to work better than others. The development of RRVs was thus a process of evolution rather than of fundamental engineering design.

Between the years 2008 and 2011, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) addressed safety issues with the early RRVs and inspection programs were put in place.

In early 2011, as a result of the ORR’s concerns and continued action, Network Rail established the RRV Safety Improvement Programme.

Although things have come a long way since then, the early advantages of RRVs – the low capital cost and technical flexibility – have largely gone. To be capable of doing the tasks required on the railway today, RRVs are becoming more specialised, and they are no longer simple low-cost pieces of equipment. Today, there isn’t much change out of £300,000 when purchasing a brand new RRV.

An RRV cannot lift anything on the infrastructure without an RCI (Rated Capacity Indicator) system in place. The two most common RCI systems used are manufactured by GKD Technik and Prolec, and they both inform the operator by buzzer and restrict/stop the machine if it is performing outside of its capabilities or safety limits. The RCI system forms part of the machine’s duty charts that define the machines capabilities and are used to develop the lift plans for specific jobs.

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New machines are still limited

Ironically, when a new machine is finally up to spec and has the correct certification to be used on the infrastructure, still all it can basically do is mount the rail and drive forwards and backwards. It’s what happens next that keeps on challenging engineers and plant suppliers to think of innovation – new ideas that keep men and women on the ground away from these machines and safe. Attachments for an RRV can range from a basic digging bucket, which basically digs holes, to a sophisticated sleeper changer that can unclip the rail, loosen the ballast and side shift the sleeper from underneath the rail. It’s these innovations that change the way the railway is maintained and keep the need for labour around the machine to a minimum, so taking away the risk of injury.

September saw the arrival of Story Contracting’s new Liebherr A900 AZW offset boom excavator which is fitted with a GKD SpaceGuard RCI system that allows the machine to work Adjacent Line Open and under live overheads – a first of its kind in the UK. Story already owns seven similar machines and has an upgrade plan in place to have SpaceGuard fitted to them all as, with the pressure on maintenance and renewals operations to complete works in shorter timescales or without line closure, an effective and reliable RCI is essential. It increases productivity by enabling the machine to be able to operate at all times even under live overhead wires (OLE) or next to open traffic lines (ALO).

SpaceGuard is currently the only electronic safety system which complies with these UK requirements.


As the demand on the infrastructure gets greater, the time allocated to carry out maintenance decreases. This has a knock-on effect throughout the industry and that’s why it makes sense that every operator should be familiar with the machinery they operate, not only for efficiency but, more crucially, for safety too.

At Story Contracting, every operator is given the correct training needed to carry out their work professionally, within the time allocated and to the highest standard possible at the company’s own training facility in Carlisle. Here, a dedicated training department develops skills ranging from small tools competence, fire safety awareness, and track induction training through to safety critical training at all levels from PTS to engineering supervisor and senior PICOP. Machine and crane controller training is given which includes use of all the various attachments and tandem lifting.

All of this in-house training is delivered by a team of four licensed trainer/assessors and three trainee trainer/ assessors.

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Investment and commitment

2014 saw the start of a new control period on the railway and, as the industry waited for the transition to take place ,it left time for the supply chain to regroup and take strategic steps ready for the future. Story Contracting has invested heavily throughout the year, opening new depots in Normanton (Yorkshire) and Bonnyrigg (Edinburgh) – creating a greater geographical reach to serve the industry.

An order was placed with Liebherr for six new A900 CZW RRVs, all fitted with GKD RCI systems and RIS-1530-PLT issue 5 compliant to help keep up with demand and to help achieve maintenance and upgrade plans.

With Story Contracting winning embankment works through CP5, the plant department has shown its commitment to help deliver the projects by purchasing JCB tracked excavators ranging from 6 – 20 tonnes at a cost of £800,000.

Now momentum has started to build in CP5, Story recently welcomed the opportunity to work with AmeySersa in Scotland on an S&C track renewal at Craigentinny. Two Colmar T10000 heavy lifters were supplied along with a laser dozer, four Komatsu Bugs and a Sleeper Spider capable of lifting and spacing seven sleepers at a time – all from Story’s new Bonnyrigg depot. The possession was handed back earlier than planned to a design level which allowed the line to be reopened at full line speed (90mph) – a first in Scotland.

Ian Cooper, plant and development engineer with AmeySersa, was duly impressed by a well delivered S&C Renewal at Craigentinny. “It’s the first time in the UK that a renewal has been opened at a line speed of 90mph. Story Contracting assisted by the allocation of machines and operators on this site and, going forward, we would like to keep continuity of both man and machine where possible throughout the following works at Craigentinny, Slateford and Christmas working at Haymarket.”

Praise indeed, and testimony to the reliability and versatility of the modern RRV.

Written by Mark Hendren

Mark Hendren is business development manager at Story Contracting, Carlisle.