Water crane

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Water crane in Stützerbach, Germany
Water crane in Kladno, Czech Republic

A water crane is a device used for delivering a large volume of water into the tank or tender of a steam locomotive.[1][2][3] The device is sometimes also called a water column in the United States.[4] As a steam locomotive consumes large quantities of water, water cranes were a vital part of railway station equipment, often situated at the end of a platform, so that water could be refilled during a stop at the station.


Generally, water cranes consist of an upright steel pipe about 8 to 12 inches (0.20 to 0.30 m) in diameter with a horizontal, pivoting pipe connected to its upper end so as to form a swinging arm.[5] The swinging arm is usually designed to rest parallel to the rails when not in use.[6] Water cranes may be able to deliver up to ten cubic metres (2,600 US gallons) of water per minute.

Water supply[edit]

In hilly country, natural streams can be dammed and water fed by gravity to the water crane.[7] In flatter country this arrangement is not always possible, so water may be supplied by a tank next to the crane. Water tanks may vary in volume from 190 kilolitres (50,000 US gal) to greater than 757 kilolitres (200,000 US gal).[5] In some cases a well may be used to supply the water to the tank.[8]

Depending on the quality of the water under supply, it may need to be treated chemically to eliminate hardness which induces scale buildup on the inside of the locomotive boiler.[5] The scale which builds up on heat transfer surfaces forms a layer of insulation between the metal and the boiler water.[9] This causes metal to overheat or corrode and eventually fail.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ‹See Tfd›US patent 709376, ‹See Tfd›John W. Thomas, Jr., "Stand-pipe for railway uses", issued 1902-09-16 
  2. ^ ‹See Tfd›US patent 847494, ‹See Tfd›James F. Murphy, "Railway stand-pipe", issued 1907-03-19 
  3. ^ ‹See Tfd›US patent 958504, ‹See Tfd›Patrick Henry Knight, "Stand-pipe for railway water-supply", issued 1910-05-17 
  4. ^ Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, Marietta, GA (2008). "The Railroad Station Water Column." Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4 - Vol. 29, No 1. p.6.
  5. ^ a b c Tratman, Edward Ernest Russell (1901). "Chapter 11. Water and Coaling Stations and Other Track Accessories". Railway Track and Track Work (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Engineering News Publishing Company. OCLC 2030207.
  6. ^ Webb, Walter Loring (1917). Railroad Construction, Theory and Practice (6th ed.). New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 376–377.
  7. ^ Cleemann, Thomas M. (1880). The Railroad Engineer's Practice. New York, New York: George H. Frost, Publisher. pp. 71–73. OCLC 70728043.
  8. ^ Guppy, B. W. (January–December 1919). "A Technical Description of the British Light Railways in France". Professional Memoirs of the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, and the Engineer Department at Large. 11: 185–216.
  9. ^ Wrinn, Jim (January 2012). "What's in the water?". Trains. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing Company: 64. ISSN 0041-0934. OCLC 1642109.