Power to the people
Master of scale and layout composition PAUL A. LUNN tackles his biggest challenge yet - how to model those colossal cooling towers that dominate our landscapes for miles around.
Paul A. Lunn tackles his biggest challenge yet how to model those colossal cooling towers that dominate our landscapes for miles around.
The theory behind the mass-generation of electricity hasn’t changed much since the 1880s. Something is burned to heat water and make steam which, in turn, is used to drive turbines and generate electricity. Even nuclear power uses a similar process, the only difference being that it’s a nuclear reaction that heats the water. Only wind, solar and hydro-electric involve different processes. But I digress... Railways have long been associated with generating electricity, because power stations consume coal at a prodigious rate. Coal was moved over great distances by rail before new generation power stations were built closer to the coalfields; but as pits and mines were closed, imported coal was moved by rail from docks. With the drive for ‘greener’ energy, imported biomass is being moved by rail in long trains of speciallybuilt wagons. At the other end of the spectrum, the movement of nuclear fuel rods requires only very short trains. The focus of this feature, inspired by Phil Metcalfe’s wonderful aerial photograph of Drax power station in North Yorkshire, is the coal-fired station.
TOWERS OF POWER
These power stations have been a feature of our landscape for decades, typified by the massive cooling towers. To reduce coal and water usage, much of the steam is condensed back to liquid form. Known technically as ‘natural draught wet-cooling hyperboloid towers’, cooling towers are often enormous and can be in the order of 200ft high (that’s about 400mm in ‘N’). To give that some context, Bachmann’s recently released low-relief example measures 280mm high, a mere 140ft! That said, there were many smaller examples and, as already stated, some structures modelled at true scale can just look too big. You’ll see what I mean later when we start to play around with a couple of plant pots. I’ve attempted to make power stations a viable project both in terms of space and by increasing operational interest, not only for railway operation but by adding relevant additional features. To my mind, constructing a suitable cooling tower was essential for ‘OO’ gauge, and while this aspect proved particularly difficult in construction, it’s been worth the effort now there’s a proven prototype!
The first and most complex ‘N’ gauge plan is inspired by Phil Metcalfe’s photograph. While it’s hugely compressed, it retains most of the key infrastructure and the overall track layout rarely strays from the prototype. Extra length between the biomass domes and cooling towers, and along the width of the whole power station frontage, would bring added authenticity. We’re fortunate that there are two rail unloaders, the original one for coal and a much later one for biomass. Inbound biomass is either used straight away or stored in one of four dome-shaped containers (see plan) capable of holding 80,000 tonnes in total. This provides two bites at the cherry, with distinctly different rolling stock, adding operational value. I’ve included scenic and non-scenic storage loops at various locations around the layout and a return loop to assist in getting full and empty trains running in the right direction. There’s a set of non-scenic overspill loops, the longest for full length trains and the shorter for locomotives, together with a number of dead end sidings for engineers’ trains, DMU railtours and the like. The layout could be operated from a centre well, roughly occupying the coal stocking grounds, with a backscene surrounding it, but additional access would be required for the overspill loops and rear of the main power station buildings. I anticipate the larger angular buildings would be constructed from scratch, with Bachmann’s cooling towers, in pairs, to form a full relief structure, and Tomytec Komono 074 spherical gas tanks (retailing at around £13 each) as the biomass storage domes.
This superb aerial view of Drax power station makes it look like a model. Drax is the UK’S largest power station and it generates nearly 10% of the nation’s electricity. The huge coal mountain betrays its traditional fuel, but Drax is now co-fired, and it also burns imported biomass (plant-based materials). Much of what you see here has been translated into the model track plan: biomass unloader on the lower right, biomass domes behind, main structure centre background with coal unloader in front and cooling towers either side. I’ve reduced their number, on the ‘N’ gauge plan, partly due to space restrictions but mainly due to costs of the Bachmann low-relief structure. Track plan orientation varies only on the top left and for those wanting to work out the scale of the various structures, it’s worth noting that the main chimney is 259m high, a daunting 3.5m in ‘OO’! It’s too high for an average layout and certainly proves the point that something that appears visually correct, somewhere between 80cm and 1m, would be more suitable.
Left: An addition to the skyline around Drax power station are the four domes, completed in 2013, that can hold 80,000t of biomass. Unfortunately, unlike coal, biomass cannot be stored in the open and deliveries have to be much more frequent. Above: There are only nine coal-fired power stations in Britain: Aberthaw B and Uskmouth in South Wales, Cottam, Ratcliffe and West Burton A in Nottinghamshire, Drax and Eggborough in Yorkshire, Fiddlers Ferry in Cheshire and this one, Rugeley, in Staffordshire.