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.

Model Rail (UK) - - Contents - ART­WORK: PAUL A. LUNN

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.


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.

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