SWEDEN: Customers help Volvo CE develop special applications
by Richard Orange
There is a clattering sound, muffled by cold, damp air and then a train sweeps past, decked out in the pastel blue of Pågatåg, the regional operator in Skåne, Sweden’s southernmost county.
“Some of them go at 200kmh,” says Conny Andersson, the owner of contracting company Connys Entreprenad, which specializes in railway work.
Thankfully, there’s a good 50 meters and a sturdy safety fence separating Andersson from the railway line linking the historic town of Helsingborg with Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city.
Andersson is visiting a railway depot near Helsingborg where he has won a contract to lay an extra 300m of track. He is demonstrating how his Volvo L90F wheel loader can operate on the railway tracks, thanks to a number of adjustments to the model developed by Volvo CE’s Special Applications Solutions team.
Railway contractors are a special breed – they have limited access to the tracks for renovation and repairs, usually for just several hours at a time, and often in the middle of the night, at weekends, or on public holidays. Breakdown comes with punitive costs, so reliability matters.
Mounting the wheel loader on the rails takes barely a minute. Daniel Nilsson, one of 14 machine operators working for Connys Entreprenad, manipulates the machine on to the tracks.
“You need to drive a little backwards and a little forwards, and keep an eye on the wheels all the time,” Andersson explains, as Nilsson positions the vehicle.
“Volvo wheel loaders are just extremely good,” he says. “That machine has worked 8,000 hours with very little downtime or breakdown.” He points to the rail wheel bracket: “It’s important that it doesn’t take up too much space, it has to be very compact,” he explains, indicating the gap underneath the chassis. “It is permanently on the machine, so you need to have ground clearance on both road and rail.”
ON A ROLL
Two bogie assemblies, mounted on the front and rear frames, are hydraulically lowered on to the track, with the rail wheels taking increasingly more of the machine’s weight until the rubber tires have optimal contact to power it. Nilsson is then able to drive the wheel loader up and down the track using the rails.
“That’s the way you operate one of these,” Andersson says with satisfaction as the machine rolls away. “And if we were using an excavator, that is also exactly how it would climb on the rails.”
The process can be affected by a number of different factors at any time, such as a load in the machine bucket, and these are the kind of details that have to be taken into consideration by Volvo CE – with the help of its customers.
For Perjohan Rosdahl, a commercial project manager with Volvo CE’s Special Applications Solutions, engaged ‘pilot’ customers like Andersson are essential if the company is to support its clients with unusual requirements by customizing Volvo CE machines for specialist applications.
“Conny Andersson is at the forefront of developing this rail application,” says Rosdahl. “He keeps us on our toes – he is constantly looking for improvements that will increase efficiency, as do we.”
Andersson has been collaborating with engineers from Volvo CE and its partners to help design and develop a rail application for the new EWR150E short tail swing wheeled excavator. He hopes to replace existing excavators in his fleet of 20 machines with several new Volvo models and has already purchased the first one.
With three Volvo rail-adapted wheel loaders – bought in 2008, 2010 and 2012 – Andersson’s first Volvo machine, acquired in 2006, clocked up a creditable 18,000 hours before going into retirement.
The adaptation of both wheel loaders and excavators for on-rail work responds to the needs of specialist contractors, yet the conversion does not prevent them from being used in conventional applications when not needed for on-rail projects or if delayed or hampered by weather conditions. The flexibility of owning ‘two-machines-in-one’ ensures that customers have full machine utilization and maximum return on investment.
Andersson’s interest in construction equipment started on nearby farms as a youngster.
“My father drove a tree harvester, and my grandmother had a farm with a number of tractors. When I was young, and started working on a farm, the neighbor had a backhoe loader.”
By the age of 24, Andersson – now 35 – had launched his own contracting company. Two years later, he bought his first machine; several years on, he won a contract to build 16 train stations connecting towns and villages in the nearby countryside to Malmö and Copenhagen, a job that was finished in 2014.
Adapting wheel loaders for rail has paid off for Andersson. Currently with eight contracts on the go, he says there is often a serious shortage of machines for the type of work he is asked to do.
“There are maybe 150 wheel loaders operating in this region, but maybe only five of them can go on the rails,” he explains.
Working in tandem, two of his rail-adapted wheel loaders are capable of changing a 20-tonne set of railroad switches in an hour, a task that would take six hours with a conventional wheel loader. His rail-road machines also allow his operators to rapidly carry aggregate and other materials to locations tens of kilometers up the track from the nearest access point.
However, to be adapted for rail, his machines must meet stringent regulations, which differ from country to country and change from year to year. From 2017, for example, new EU rules will require Andersson to retrofit his excavators with rated capacity indicators, a load-management system that makes it harder to flip over an overloaded rail-going excavator.
The rules also require height limitations for excavators and wheel loaders, so that arm and bucket cannot touch the 16,000kV power lines above the rails, and to be grounded in case they do. Slew locks are mandatory, so that when an excavator is working on a track next to one in use, its operator cannot accidentally move the bucket into the path of a passing train. For the same reasons, there are limits as to how far the counterweight at the rear of the excavator can extend. The reduced tail swing radius of the new EWR150E makes it ideally suited to this application.
Andersson himself spends much of his time behind the levers of a machine. In his opinion, it is where the company boss belongs.
“That’s where you should be for two reasons,” he argues. “It helps keep you up to speed on developments, and it’s easier to get jobs when you’re out in the field than if you’re stuck at home.”
But it does not leave him much time for rest. “Apart from keeping up with friends and family, I don’t do anything else,” he admits. “When I’m not out here working, I’m fixing machines. If you have 20 machines, there’s always something. It’s like my hobby as well as my work.”
And even when Andersson takes a break, it’s often in the company of his 14 operators.
“We work unsocial hours and weekends and so on, so we try to do something together every year,” he says.
Last winter, they went skiing together. This year, they aim to visit bauma in Munich, but just for fun…