Meet the man operating London’s biggest crane

18 July 2017 | By James Kenny

James Kenny meets Ronnie Adams, who has put his enormous crane to work at Earls Court.

Like a ringmaster, Ronnie Adams and his troupe travel the world going from city to city. In the last few months they’ve been to Brazil and Thailand.

They’ve now landed in London but are putting on a show of a different kind. Adams and his team are elite workers from specialist engineering firm ALE and are in charge of AL.SK190 – the biggest crane ever seen in London.

The 120m monster (pictured right) was designed and manufactured by the firm and is in London for the summer, working alongside contractor Keltbray on the huge Earl’s Court redevelopment in west London. Material from the demolition of the old Earls Court Exhibition Centre has been packed into containers and is being used as a counterbalance for the crane.

“It takes a certain sort of person for this job but I still get a massive thrill. Just the sheer scale of working with such big equipment.”

Ronnie Adams ALE

The crane, which is twice the size of Nelson’s Column and dwarfs Big Ben, is tasked with carefully lifting 61 “portal beams” out from over the London Underground lines that lie below the exhibition centres. The large concrete beams previously supported the weight of the exhibition centre and need to be removed to enable development on site.

The smallest beam is 80 tonnes, with the largest weighing 1,500, the equivalent of 118 London buses. The AL.SK190 was chosen as the optimum engineering solution and the method has been designed to minimise impact on local residents and significantly shorten project timescales.

It is estimated that using the machinery will reduce enabling work on the 8,000-home scheme by two years. 

Adams, an amicable Geordie, has been with ALE since 1990. "I started in this business by accident really,” he says. “Before ALE, I was based in Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, working on bridge projects across the regions. Upon joining ALE as a senior project manager, I was posted in Venezuela to work on a large bridge project over the Orinoco River.

“As we secured more project work in the country I remained there for seven years, working on number of key projects until I was posted to the UAE for five years as part of the ALE Crane Division.”

ALE crane: 120m; Big Ben: 96m; Nelson’s Column: 60m; Brachiosaurus: 18m

He enthuses about the work he does, though particularly the opportunity of working in the UK: “Compared to the work we normally do, this is on a smaller scale but it’s really exciting as it’s the first time we’ve brought the AL.SK190 crane to London and the UK. We were supposed to be here until the end of August but we’ll probably be finished around the end of July.”

Adams travels with an team of 14 men and describes them as very close, a family unit. To work the crane it takes eight per shift, day and night – two operators, five riggers and one engineer. To put the crane together and dismantle it takes about five  weeks and two smaller cranes are needed in the process.

 Amazingly this crane is not ALE’s biggest. Adams says the firm is always improving and could go bigger if a project demands: “On the back of this project we’ve had lots of enquiries from the UK and ALE’s R&D division in Holland are always working on improvements.” 

While he admits life on the road can be hard, the opportunity to travel and work on massive projects still gives this nomad a buzz. “It takes a certain type of person for this job, but I still get a massive thrill. Just the sheer scale of working with such big equipment. We have almost 40 regional offices around the world and I’m already set to go for the next project back to Nigeria.”


Magnificent. Wow. I am proud you are visiting and going to work in my country Nigeria. Wish you all the best. How I wish I could see the crane operate.

Goke Odunlami, 13 July 2017

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