The entire team at CML with Fabrice Coulon in the middle 7th from the right

Fabrice transforms truck cranes into railway cranes

14 March 2022

We call them truck cranes in everyday usage, and as this implies, our cranes aren't originally developed for railway carriages. Nevertheless, the company CML, led by Fabrice Coulon, has made a business of rebuilding HMF cranes for the railway sector. A niche business that requires ingenuity and engineering expertise. We asked Fabrice to tell us more about this work. 

According to himself, it was one of life’s coincidences that Fabrice became the owner of the Belgian company, CML, 12 years ago.

Even then, the company had almost 20 years of experience with cranes for trucks and railcars. Two years ago, Fabrice decided that CML should stop mounting cranes on trucks and the company now focuses 100% on customising HMF cranes for the railway industry.

Today, Fabrice is glad that chance brought him to CML. The company is a solid brand in the railway sector in BENELUX, known for their sturdy, custom-made, high-quality machines.

"This is perfectly in line with the high quality that characterises HMF, which is precisely why we have been using HMF cranes since the beginning," Fabrice says.

It is mainly the cranes with a lifting capacity between 20 and 30 tonne-metres that CML uses for their market. The transformed cranes perform everything from loading and unloading equipment for rail work to repairing railway signals and overhead wires above train tracks. Sometimes, CML mounts a personnel basket next to the crane - making the railway carriage a very flexible work tool.

An interesting solution that Fabrice proudly tells us about is two HMF 1630s at each end of two railway wagons. The software developed by CML allows both cranes to work completely simultaneously. A remote control allows the operator to concentrate on the loading/unloading operation without worrying about the coordination of the two cranes. The operator has a good overview of the working area when he can stand wherever he wants.

As challenging as sending a rocket to the moon

Turning truck cranes into railway cranes is no easy task. CML buys the HMF cranes from their close partner HYVA N.V., and then converts them for various "railway purposes".

Fabrice likes to say that "developing a crane for use in the railway sector is as challenging as sending a rocket to the moon."

"After all, there's no script for how to convert a truck crane into a railway crane – it is often tailor-made solutions. The railway cranes and installations in demand are rarely the same, and each individual task requires a new solution," Fabrice says.

Half of CML's employees are engineers who work hard to redesign the truck cranes for their new purpose. And it is not only the structure of the crane that needs to be redesigned. The entire software often needs to be rebuilt, extended or "reinvented".

As Fabrice says: "Due to very specific regulations, the railway business is quite different from the truck business."

It is the challenge that motivates – but the competition that pushes to progress

The many challenges don't scare Fabrice though – quite the contrary. As in every business, it is the mastery of specificities that makes the difference. When it's simple, anyone can do it, as he says.

When asked what he likes most about his job, Fabrice replies “It is the challenge! And the possibility of cooperating at a very high technological level with companies like HMF.

And cooperation and drive are necessary in the railway industry. The demands are getting higher and higher and the work getting more and more complicated due to increasingly stringent traceability and safety rules. Calculations, risk analyses and declarations have to be drawn up for each railway crane and the train carriage on which it is built.

It’s very demanding but also very motivating,” says Fabrice.

Maybe it is due to this drive, motivation and technological expertise that CML have managed to establish themselves as a reliable and capable player in the BENELUX railway industry. The company for example just won a big tender when we talked with Fabrice.

"We were up against a French competitor. We were a bit more expensive, but thanks to our innovative technical solution and our better service contracts, valid for 5 years, we won. We also benefit from a 'home field advantage', which is important in the rail sector. Here the speed of intervention and the quality of the service are decisive. Line outage times are always very short. It is therefore necessary to react quickly in the event of a problem."

Concluding, Fabrice says:

In the end, it is the strong partnership between CML, HYVA and HMF that makes the success. All three must be responsive because our competitors are. Passion is necessary, but even more so is professionalism.