Selkirk company gets on track with cutting edge rail cropper

The team at Astra Site Services based in Selkirk.
The team at Astra Site Services based in Selkirk.

A Borders company which develops and supplies plant excavator attachments has created a ground-breaking machine to crack Britain’s toughest rail lines.

Astra Site Services, based in Selkirk, is celebrating having successfully launched more than a dozen of its rail-cutting machines across the UK market.

New machinery developed by Astra Site Services, Selkirk.

New machinery developed by Astra Site Services, Selkirk.

The company’s newly accredited Astra Rail Cropper (ARC) unit was granted full product approval by Network Rail in October, an accreditation notoriously difficult to obtain and which usually includes years of trials and paper work.

And now the Tweed Mill Business Park-based marketing team are looking further afield to promote the machine to new markets in Europe, Asia and the United States while it’s team of Bathgate-based in house engineers looks ahead to the next project to design and develop.

Astra’s owner and managing director Mark Graham, from Jedburgh, said: “This is the first piece of equipment to be designed in house and put in front of the European market, we are delighted with how the Astra Rail Cropper has been received in the UK and believe the timing is perfect to take it across to Europe; rail safety and track replacement productivity are key targets in Europe right now and these are the fundamental benefits of using the ARC compared with other methods of processing scrap rail.”

British rail is one of the hardest metals known to man, and with over 10,000 miles of track throughout the UK periodically needing lifted and replaced, Network Rail has long-needed a way to cut the incredibly hard lines whilst making track renewals both safer and easier to transport.

Astra Site Services owner Mark Graham, left, and marketing executive Derek Watson at their office in Selkirk.

Astra Site Services owner Mark Graham, left, and marketing executive Derek Watson at their office in Selkirk.

Astra has been working on this brief since 2015 and worked closely with the country’s rail plant companies and Network Rail to identify the critical assets for the new machine.

They wanted to create an excavator mounted product that could safely crop the rail in any position, one that was durable but light weight, could comply with on site safety regulations, was engineered to the highest degree, and was available to hire or buy nationwide with a support network offering repairs and wide spare part availability.

The company believes the ARC has exceeded these expectations, so much so it has been invited to demonstrate the ARC at the International Rail Technology Show in Munster next month, the company’s first trade show appearance outwith the UK.

The first unit was made available for trials in March 2016 and was immediately put to the test by rail plant companies throughout Scotland who found that it successfully out-performed all other rail cutting products.

In a single eight-hour shift the machine can make over 1,000 cuts and, in an area where previous products had failed, a single set of cutting blades can make over 50,000 cuts, with each cut requiring 350 tons of force to cut a single piece of rail.

The unit also weighs in below the competition at 2495kg, over 300kg lighter than any alternative.

Now over a dozen ARC units have been sold to the UK’s rail plant market and a fleet of ARC Rail croppers are being well featured in Astra’s hire fleet throughout the UK.

Astra are already well established as the UKs largest providers of excavator mounted attachments and are the only nationwide specialist attachment company approved to supply the Rail Plant industry (RISQS accredited).

It is the UK’s largest suppliers of hydraulic excavator attachments; supplying the demolition, construction and rail industries with specialised equipment for sale or hire for over 15 years.

The company employs more than 50 staff nationwide and has depots situated throughout the country including Bathgate, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London.