Rail Supply

Extended capabilities: RKR Engineering’s specialised rail equipment

RKR Engineering is bringing a specialist’s eye for rail construction to equipment.

RKR Engineering started in a garage at Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains, but before long had outgrown its humble beginnings.

After winning a few tenders for larger works, the company quickly developed a reputation for being able to complete complex projects. In 1991, the company won its first contract in the rail industry, a footbridge refurbishment tender for Homebush Station in Sydney.

“The new bridge had to look similar to the riveted lattice construction of the bridge it replaced,” said RKR Engineering founder Russel Ricketts.

“After that, the business just got bigger and bigger. Ten years ago, we did a business review, at that time, we were prominently completing steel fabrication and projects. We thought we needed to have our own equipment and we wanted to design and build a product. We looked at what we needed for our projects, and we couldn’t find the equipment at a competitive price, so we thought we would design it and manufacture it ourselves.”

The RKR team worked for five years to set up the equipment side of the business. In 2012, the company built its first machine, a prototype of the current Trackhaul machine.

A multipurpose piece of equipment and material carrier, Trackhaul can travel on rail or road. The modular approach to design and construction allows for optional equipment to be added or removed from the deck space.

With Trackhaul, RKR solved the issue of how to easily transport equipment and materials on road and rail, a challenge borne from its work in designing structures for rail projects. This approach of building specialised equipment based on knowledge of the rail construction environment has continued.

“With the Trackhaul complete, then we said we need a big crane that can get into tight areas,” said Ricketts. “We developed our own crane using a Hiab crane, put it on a railway carriage and then powered it.”

RKR has applied its in-house expertise to the manufacturing of equipment, such as mobile platforms.

The finished design, now known as Tracklift, has been in use in Australian rail networks to pick up and carry material, without interfering with overhead wires or train movements on adjacent tracks. RKR has also developed its own mobile platform attachments that can be fixed to Trackhaul or on their hi rail trucks.

Another product that has directly responded to the needs of the rail construction environment is the RotoQuip.

“A lot of our work is with existing infrastructure – strengthening, repairing, and refurbishing it – so we had a huge need for being able to put heavy beams up underneath bridges to strengthen them, and there was no equipment,” said Ricketts.

This led to the development of a three- axis crane boom attachment for positioning equipment and steelwork in environments that traditional cranes cannot work in. The RotoQuip can lift steel beams for bridge and overpass repairs in tunnels, under bridges, and in confined spaces.

In March 2020, long-time partner Rhomberg Rail Australia purchased RKR Engineering to bring together RKR Engineering’s expertise in equipment, design, fabrication, and installation of steelwork with Rhomberg’s suite of capabilities. So far, according to Bart Kelly, manager at RKR Engineering, it has been a natural fit.

“A lot of the work goes hand in hand. The Rhomberg track and bridge crew are doing all the transom works and the RKR team are doing all the stringers and work underneath, so it’s all intertwined.”

The need for equipment such as the RotoQuip came from projects that RKR had worked on.

With the fleet of specialised rail equipment now on hand, RKR are prepared to take on complex maintenance and renewal jobs around Australia. Completing these jobs in the short possession periods allotted comes down to careful planning.

“No job is the same,” said Ricketts. “You start off with a good methodology, which goes to a good design and then you look at the construction procedure and that takes a lot of discussion and planning among ourselves. From tradesmen to supervisors, we all get together and we discuss how a job can be done in the time that we have it.”

Having these multiple levels of expertise in house means that from a customer’s perspective, there is a single point of contact that knows the process inside out.

“We do the design, fabrication, installation, and the commissioning,” said Ricketts. “The control of the project is in house, so if there’s an issue with something we can send somebody back to the workshop and make changes and get equipment.”

These capabilities were recently put to the test on a project to design, fabricate, and install a temporary enclosure to allow for the removal and replacement of lead paint on the Cockle Creek Rail Bridge near Newcastle. The two-span bridge, built in 1957, needed to be encapsulated to allow for the blasting of the bridge without the lead paint polluting the river below. The structure also needed to support the load of people doing the repainting, all while allowing trains to continue running.

“We were given 36 hours to build this tunnel and the only way of doing that was to build it in modules next to the track, lower the overhead wires, and drive it in on a special delivery vehicle in six large sections,” said Ricketts.

“It took us eight hours, so when people left at 6pm on Saturday night all these modules were sitting on the ground waiting for the wind to drop. By 8pm we started to install the first one, and by six o’clock the next morning when everyone returned, it was all in.”

The RKR Engineering team used its specialised equipment to drive in the modules and used the Tracklift to raise the pieces of the structure to go around the bridge. Kelly, who had left the site on Saturday evening, returned on Sunday morning to see the finished project.

“I came back at 5am on the Sunday morning and I couldn’t believe it. The bridge stands out even more now because its wrapped in white plastic. You can probably see it from the moon.”

With blasting now complete on the first span on the bridge the team is waiting
until the next possession in 2021 to move the entire structure to the bridge’s second span. Once again, the specialised knowledge and equipment that RKR Engineering have developed over the past 30 years will be essential.

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