Steam Breakdown Crane RS1054/50

Patron: Sir William McAlpine

This crane, a Steam Railway Breakdown Crane, was built for the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) under Order number 5111-13 of 30 May 1930 by Cowans Sheldon of Carlisle. It was shedded first at Motherwell in Scotland, moving on to St Margaret’s in 1961 and finally Haymarket, near Edinburgh in 1966, before making the journey south to Didcot in 1987.

50t Crane
Click on the plan for a larger version

Cowans started building and supplying railway cranes in 1892, with a lifting capacity of 10 and 12 Tons, but larger ones of up to 36 Tons capacity were built in the 1930s and some were subsequently strengthened to 50T capacity, ours among them.

50t Crane
Photo: Colin Washbourne 1993
Click on the photo for a larger version

These cranes were used to lift heavy loads, such as locomotives and carriages involved in crashes or derailments. They ran on the track and were towed to the job before being detached from the train and making their way to the actual lifting scene under their own power. They were also capable of lifting other railway-related objects, such as bridges and lengths of rail.

50t Crane
Photo: Colin Washbourne 1993
Click on the photo for a larger version
50t Crane
Photo: Peter Jennings 2016
Click on the photo for a larger version

The crane can lift loads of up to 12 tons without the need for the outriggers to be deployed; this is known as operating ‘free on rail’. For loads beyond 12 tons and up to 50, the crane must be stationary and the outriggers deployed to spread the load as shown in the photographs.

The small 4-wheeled trucks at either end of the crane itself are the ‘weight-relieving (or Stokes) bogies’. They are able to take a proportion of the weight of the crane itself to permit the consist to travel over rail capable of taking only light loads. The axle load of the crane itself with the bogies attached is between 12 and 13 tons: without them, the load rises to around 20 tons per axle.

Target date for return to operation 2020

The Steam Railmotor's boiler ticket expires in February 2021 and the only machine on site at Didcot that is capable of lifting the boiler out of the body is our 50 Ton Crane, RS1054/50. The target date for the return to operation and allow for crew-training, therefore, is June 2020.

From a BDCA member ...

The Didcot crane was red right up to the end. I remember it in 1984 at Haymarket depot, and the furore when the HSE lady went bananas because they repainted it ‘red’ and not yellow!
With the on-call officer one early morning we had to recover a Mk3 sleeper which had got shunted over the stop blocks on a servicing road at Craigintinny. The crane was summoned and, as we were unable to get the props out because of the concrete platforms, we lifted 'free on rail' at beyond the limit indicated by the load board. I recall an estimated 28 tons at a propped radius of limit of 24. My job was to watch the wheels on the offside and we only just lifted up enough to get the blade of a shovel between rail and wheel tread. The driver beamed at me and said the crane was built strong. If only I'd had my camera!
The crane attended the Morpeth crash and the Polmont crash that I know of, and the poor old thing was raced without a hitch to the events, but a gentle tow to the other end of the depot for an open day always resulted in a hot box or two.
The gear oiler points on her (?) were a bugger to get to. A real contortion, and you had to have very long arms. Funny...I got that job!
All the best, Mike

Personally I think black doesn't really suit the double lattice jib. I might even have a Haymarket transfer somewhere...

The Didcot crane is currently being restored to working order and the following items are major items of expenditure needed before he can operate again:

New steam pipes
c. £500
Water tanks and coal bunkers c. £5,000
Hoist rope
c. £5,000
Load-cell (We will need it for the insurance test-loading)
c. £1,500
Steel sheet for the Weight-relieving bogies
New tools
c. £1,000
Electrical system
Boiler (dependent upon results of a formal inspection by our insurers, a sum in the region of ….)
TOTAL £46,100

As at 11 February, funding has reached just over £10,000. Please help if you can and be part of this important piece of the country's heritage - Let the crane lift your money!

Crane Fundraising

The Insurance Company's boiler inspector paid us a visit on 21 September and has asked that we take the firebox out for closer inspection. Well, at least he didn't condemn the whole thing out of hand! The Boiler Inspector's report will ultimately determine exactly what will happen next. Whatever it is, it will be expensive, so please keep the funds coming.

We are pleased that Sir William McAlpine has agreed to support the project. He said “I am delighted to be invited to be Patron of the Crane Project. I hope that in some way this may further the cause. Please let me know of any way that I might be of help and keep me in touch with progress. It is amazing what enthusiasm and perseverance can do towards the success of a project. Good luck.

Agreement has now been reached about the next stage of the work on the boiler. Work is now under way to grind the heads off some 100 rivets which hold the wretched thing together, prior to dismantling into firebox, foundation ring and outer wrapper. Once that's happened, likely to be in Spring next year, we'll be able to establish exactly what the condition is and what needs to be done next.

The Project gratefully acknowleges the help being generously provided by Steam Plant Engineering Ltd of Halesowen.

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How you can help

If you would like to make a donation to assist with this important project, please click on the link below.

Download the 50t Steam Crane appeal form (68 kB .pdf document)


  If you have a Paypal account, you may make a donation through it to this email address:

Alternatively you could set up a Standing Order (111 kB .pdf document) to make regular contribution to the fund, but don't forget to Gift Aid it as well if you can!

Whatever help you are able to give will be most welcome and will move the Project forward considerably towards final completion.

We can be contacted at


Page last updated:14-Feb-2018