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Aluminating tanks from Revolution!

Revolution Trains is offering the distinctive Alcan PCA alumina tanks, used between Blyth and Lochaber Aluminium Smelter near Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands, as its next OO wagon model and we’ve prepared a short video to launch the model which is currently in tooling.

With Ben More dominating the background 66739 The Bluebell Railway eases the Alcan empties across the Fillan Viaduct at Crianlarich. Photo: Terry Callaghan.

Built in 1988, the Alcan PCA tanks have been in frontline service for more than three decades and despite their relatively limited route they pass through some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK.

66740 with the Alcan tanks at Whifflet. Photo: Tom Smith.

In addition they have been hauled by a wide variety of traction including Classes 26, 37, 47, 56, 60, 66 and perhaps most remarkably, Class 55 Deltic 55022 in 2011.

26036 with Alcan tanks bringing up the rear at Beattock in 1990. Photo: Dave McAlone.

To assist with research Revolution recently visited the Lochaber smelter.

Prototype History

43 wagons numbered BAHS55531-55573 were built in 1988 by Powell Duffryn to design code PC020A for British Alcan Aluminium. Unusually the wagons have twin-link suspension with parabolic leaf springs, due to restrictions on the West Highland line.

BAHS55555 at Blyth. Photo: Henry Pattinson.

Introduced in a plain grey livery with blue ‘Alcan’ branding, by the mid 2000s the Alcan logos had faded and resembled dusty grey triangles, and the end ladders were removed.

37413 “Loch Eil Outward Bound” with Alcan tanks at Crianlarich in 1991. Photo: Alan Mitchell.

In 2008 Alcan was amalgamated into Rio Tinto Alcan, and while the basic livery remained the same new red branding was introduced.

BAHS55559 at Stirling’s Yard in Rio Tinto Alcan livery. Photo: Tom Smith

Following the purchase of the Lochaber aluminium smelter in 2016 by GFG Alliance the wagons were progressively relabelled in Lochaber Power/Liberty and more recently with Alvance branding.

BAHS55568 in Alvance branding, BAHS 55566 wih Lochaber/Liberty branding. Photo: Tom Smith.

The Model

The Alcan PCA tanks feature four top loading hatches, a full length catwalk and access ladders on each side.  The ladders were removed around 2005-2007 and versions with and without ladders, with appropriate liveries, will be offered.

PCA original version with ladders
PCA revised with ladders removed

In addition some wagons have had the plate on the discharge chute removed, and this will be supplied as a customer fit part to allow both options.

The models feature NEM pockets and are designed for straightforward conversion to EM or P4. Tooling is almost complete and first samples are expected next month.

Revolution is proposing versions in a wide selection of the liveries carried by these tanks to allow every era of these interesting wagons to be depicted.

Operations

Lochaber smelter is just outside Fort William in the West Highlands of Scotland and was opened in 1929. The enormous power requirements of alumium smelting require that plants are located close to suitable power supply. It would take the average family 20 years to use the electricity needed to produce just one tonne of aluminium!

Lochaber smelter generates the power it need using hydro-electric turbines spun by vast quantities of water piped from Loch Treig via a tunnel through the base of Ben Nevis and down five huge pipes into the plant.

Five enormous pipes feed water to power Lochaber’s hydro-electric turbines. Photo: James Dean Shepherd.

Aluminium is produced in a two-stage process. Aluminium ore (Bauxite) is first converted into alumina, then smelted into aluminium ingots.

Molten aluminium being poured into casting moulds at Lochaber. Photo: GFG Alliance.

The alumina used at Lochaber is processed at Aughinish in County Limerick, Ireland – the largest such plant in Europe – then shipped to the Port of Blyth, where it is unloaded into three large silos before being sent by rail to Fort William.

Bulk carrier Arklow Willow is unloaded at Blyth, prior to the alumina being railed to Lochaber. Photo: Chris Phillips, used under Creative Commons.

When introduced the wagons were also used, on occasion, to supply alumina to the Lynemouth smelter, around 7 miles north of Blyth, however these trains ceased when it was mothballed in 2012.

At the present time the trains, running under the headcodes 6S45 (loaded) and 6E45 (empties) run north on the East Coast main line via Dunbar and Millerhill to Mossend, then across via Helensburgh Upper onto the West Highland line to Fort William.

66737 with diverted Alcan tanks at Denton Mill. Photo: Dave McAlone.

Diversionary routes can include north of Mossend via Gartcosh or avoiding the ECML using the Tyne Valley line via Hexham to Carlisle and then the northern West Coast main line.

The models are in tooling now with samples expected very soon, and the order book is open now – just click on Shop in the website menu.