The mobility guarantee with the three-pointed star.

Towing buses and trains - of course with the Unimog.

For the Krefeld municipal utility SWK it's all about mobility. A new Unimog U 423 is keeping the wheels in motion. When blockages occur, it ensures that buses and trams are quickly running again.

At peak times, Jörg Lingel's realm covers more than 160 buses, 40 trams and an entire brigade of refuse and cleaning vehicles. As the fleet manager of SWK MOBIL GmbH, he is not only responsible for procuring the vehicles. His duties also include assuring the mobility of his substantial fleet.

To that end, he recently added a new Unimog U 423 to it. Because every now and again a specialist from Jörg Lingel's six-strong mobility team has to head out and tow a broken-down vehicle back to the depot – usually following an accident involving inattentive road users. Fleet manager Jörg Lingel comments: "We purposely chose the U 423 with the torque converter clutch and short wheelbase because buses or trams often break down just at the worst place, in very constricted and hard-to-access locations. The drivers often have to manoeuvre in very tight spaces.

With 40 tonnes coupled.

"When a tram breaks down, for example, we use the Eggers coupling fitted on the back of the new Unimog. It can easily pull a tram to the workshop without placing a strain on the vehicle's hitch coupling. That's almost 40 tonnes of dead weight," Jörg Lingel explains. "As a bimodal vehicle, it could even handle as much as 100 tonnes of unbraked hitched load in rail marshalling operations," adds Ralf Borauke from Mercedes-Benz specialist vehicles dealer RKF-Bleses. He it was who configured the Unimog for Jörg Lingel as it now stands in the depot.

Always the right accessories container on-board.

Jörg Lingel is especially delighted with the Jotha CombiCon 5018U skip loader, mounted on the Unimog as an interchangeable unit. "From now on we will be fitting it out with the right container for any application," the fleet manager reports. Previously, specialist tooling, lifting and towing equipment was taken to the operating location in a separate trailer. "This now means we save a lot of time and are much more mobile and flexible when on-site," the head of the SWK mobile team comments happily.

Incidentally, the trailers used to be pulled by the predecessor to the U 423, a silver-coloured 400 model equipped with a 20 metric tonne crane. "The old one is still top-fit, but we are very pleased that we can now take some of the strain off it when it comes to towing and marshalling," says Jörg Lingel. The 400 is something of an all-rounder within SWK's special fleet. "We need the Unimog with the crane regularly for maintenance and repair jobs assuring grid security on behalf of regional power company Netzgesellschaft Niederrhein.

If a tram then breaks down due to a collision accident at the same time, it's a tight call with only one Unimog in operation. That's no longer a problem now that we have the new one. Jörg Lingel's operational capacity has essentially more than doubled since the 423 joined the fleet.

Safety is the top priority for SWK.

In addition to the Eggers coupling and the Jotha container system, Jörg Lingel mainly ordered a whole array of additional lighting for his Unimog. "Our work often involves operations in remote locations. In the winter months they’re often in total darkness, so we need lots of light to be able to work effectively.

"I always configure the vehicles in our fleet with all the safety equipment available as a matter of policy, because the safety of our staff and of other road and rail users is our top priority." Unimog specialist Ralf Borauke from RKF Bleses GmbH has noticed that more and more customers are looking to invest in increased safety when specifying their equipment wish-lists: "It's good to see that commercial customers, too, are willing to invest in systems which enhance active and passive safety when configuring their vehicles."

An experienced team of skilled mechatronics engineers.

The team operating the Unimog on its call-outs comprises six mechatronics engineers and fleet manager Jörg Lingel himself. That means that he works one week in six on 24-hour call like the rest of the team. And Jörg Lingel is looking forward to his first call-out with the new Unimog. "Hopefully it won't be as tough as three years ago," the team leader recalls with a grin: "I was called out because we had black ice in Krefeld. Five buses had got completely stuck all at once; one of them was in a ditch outside of town. I was astounded how assuredly the 400 pulled each of the buses clear, one after another."

And the new 423 will doubtless not disappoint him either when it comes to exhibiting supreme manoeuvrability, grip and towing power. The crew comprises mechatronics engineers who are long-standing members of the SWK workshop team, and for the most part underwent their training in it too. Because it takes much more than a truck driving licence to do the job on the new Unimog. "Recovery work is very demanding," explains Jörg Lingel. Broken-down vehicles have to be towed away rapidly so as to get Krefeld's traffic moving smoothly again.

A short time later we see what fleet manager Lingel means. A tram being operated by a driver under instruction has broken down not far from the company headquarters and is blocking one of the main lines on SWK's 80 kilometre rail network. After just a quarter of an hour, the main gate of the company depot opens and the Unimog comes around the corner with the 40 tonne beast hitch to it. After switching the hitch from back to front, it pushes the tram backwards into SWK's gigantic workshop shed – and the city's traffic is back up and running smoothly again.

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