At a glance:
Builder: Cowans, Sheldon & Company
Build date: 1931
Original company: London, Midland & Scottish Railway (Northern Counties Committee)
Withdrawal date: 1993
Final company: Northern Ireland Railways
Arrived at DCDR: 1994
Current status: Stored
Current owner: DCDR

Steam crane 3084 was purchased by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (Northern Counties Committee) in 1931 to assist in the construction of the Bleach Green viaduct, a double-track 10-arch bridge which still to this day carries the Belfast – Derry mainline across St. Valentine’s Glen in Whiteabbey.

The crane consists of three vehicles – the man unit, a water tank wagon, and a match wagon to support the jib. Weighing in a hefty 95 tons, the whole ensemble is 23 metres long and spread across 10 axles. The largest steam crane ever built for operation in Ireland, 3084 is capable of lifting an impressive 36 tons. After the nationalisation of the LMS in 1948, the NCC was owned by the British Transport Commission before its assets were passed to the Ulster Transport Authority in 1949, then Ulster Transport Railways in 1967, and finally to Northern Ireland Railways in 1968.

Although based at York Road, it was involved in a wide variety of work over the course of its career across the both the NIR and CIÉ networks. These ranged from lifting an engine out of the turntable pit at Portadown, to rerailing a 70 Class following a derailment at Tweed’s level crossing, and even constructing the rail bridge across the M2 at Junction 5. It saw the destruction of old stations, tore down the BCDR footbridge at Sydenham, and built the concrete shelter at Bangor West.

Railway cranes tend to see all sorts of dramatic moments during their careers, and 3084 is no exception. It wasn’t even a year old by the time of first such incident, when it began rolling towards the edge of the unfinished Bleach Green viaduct. It was saved from its impending 20ft drop only by the heroics of a worker who ran alongside and applied the handbrake just in the nick of time.

Another incident came in 1974 when it was employed to lift a derailed spoil wagon at Ballycarry, which ended with 3084 having joined the wagon on its side in the cess, unfortunately killing a crew member in the process. One of CIÉ’s cranes was brought up from Inchicore to recover both the wagon and 3084.

Although Ballycarry had come close to writing 3084 off, repairs were ultimately made in time for it to head south and assist CIÉ’s cranes in the erecting of the overhead electricity wires for the DART network from 1981 to 1982. With this work done, the crane headed back to York Road where it languished for some time. It was here that DCDR first crossed paths with 3084, when we approached NIR in the late ’80s about preserving it. We were told that it was ours if we could fund its replacement, and needless to say, we could not!

A few years later the steam crane was moved to Larne Harbour and NIR, deciding they no longer needed a crane, offered it to us. It was with a heavy heart that the board initially had to decline, with the cost of transport (about £4000 in today’s money) being well out of our means. Were it not for an exceedingly generous personal donation from one of our directors at the time who couldn’t bear to see the crane scrapped, 3084 would not have escaped the cutter’s torch.

The steam crane sat for a while in front of the station as a display piece; for us to ever actually steam it and use it would be overkill – not to mention the nightmare of getting it through modern lifting certification. In 2010 it was moved temporarily to the South Line beyond Magnus’ Grave for the duration of the Carriage Gallery works. In 2012, it was returned to Downpatrick yard and now sits on a siding next to where the North and South lines part ways. Make sure to look out for it the next time you’re on board!