TATA steel works is largest manufacturing sites in Scunthorpe occupying 12 square miles and has over 100 miles of rail track. The rail tours are run by the Appleby Frodingham Railway Preservation Society who have been running steam trips around the works for nearly 20 years. Tours take about two hours and carry visitors along 15 miles of track within the works using a small steam engine with two vintage coaches.
It is an opportunity for people not employed by the steel industry to see what a steel works is like. A running commentary gives a run down of the steel works, its history and manufacturing processes as well as snippets of information like a lot of Scunthorpe Steel is used to make brillo pads. TATA have a strict policy of no photography around the works.
Tickets are booked through Brigg Tourist Information Centre and are free, although donations are requested after the trip. Visitors are asked to arrive 15 minutes before the tour is due to start and there was a sense of excitement among visitors aged from about 3 to 70+ on the small Frodingham station over looking Brigg Road. There was a real buzz at the sight of steam from the loco. The coaches and loco are pulled into the station by an industrial diesel as this saves the steam loco running round the train. Our train was pulled by a 1916 Peckett and Sons saddle tank loco.
TATA Steel is known as an integrated steel works as all the processes from the melting of iron ore to finished product are carried out on the site. All steel produced is made to previously placed orders.
We saw where the imported iron ore (over 60% iron content and much higher than any found in UK) and imported coal (low sulphur) are brought by rail and loaded into TATA wagons for transport around the site. We saw the huge stock piles of coal waiting to be blended to get just the right mix for the massive banks of coke ovens. Coke production is a continuous process. If the coke ovens cool down they collapse.
We saw the brick remains of the original C19th blast furnaces and the four Queens, the current blast furnaces, named Vicky, Mary, Annie and Bess. These are medium sized and make 300 tons of steel at a time, which gives them flexibility in fulfilling orders. Then there are the different melting shops, rolling mills, concast plant and the controlled cooling huts. Some of the buildings are huge and St Paul’s Cathedral would easily fit inside them.
We also saw the cooling towers, essential as water is recycled and reused many times before being released into the water course. The works also has its own electricity generating plant, as well as a medical centre.
We saw wagons waiting to be repaired and wagons loaded with steel waiting to be delivered to customers. There were piles of scrap steel waiting to be recycled. Nothing goes to waste and even the metal dust is extracted from flue dust. Slag from the blast furnaces is ground for road building material. Massive pipes carry waste gases from the coke ovens and blast furnaces which can be used elsewhere. These have a series of big U bends along them to allow for expansion and contraction in response to external temperature.
We passed exotic locations like Scargill’s Bank, rapidly built during the miner’s strike, Bottle Neck Bridge and Brick Shed Junction.
Even though we were given a map of the site showing the main buildings and sidings, we soon lost our bearings as rail lines and roads criss crossed. All rail movement around the site is controlled by radio from three big brick built control centres. TATA traffic has priority, so there were stops while TATA locos pulling torpedos of molten metal went past or when the driver had to get out and change points. We also saw large dumper trucks at work. In the more deserted parts of the site there is also chance to see hares, one of the few places they can be seen around Scunthorpe.
Towards the end of the tour, there is a stop at the Appleby Frodingham Preservation Society engine sheds with a chance to see the other locos they own. There is a small shop selling mugs and key rings and a coach has been turned into a refreshment room selling drinks, biscuits and cakes (a very good homemade Victoria sponge).
Arnold Machin, a small 1958 Yorkshire Engine Co diesel was giving footplate rides along a short stretch of track. This was the highlight of Grandson’s visit who managed three rides. Not only was he allowed to blow the horn, he was even allowed to drive the diesel and take the brake off.
It was an interesting trip, although two hours did feel a long time. Steel works aren’t exactly photogenic places. The commentary was very detailed and informative, although we did rather go into information over load by the end. We would have appreciated the break mid way through the trip rather than towards the end.
The Society also run brake van trips which take four hours . There is no planned route and they go deep into the heart of the site and into areas not covered by the normal trips. Children under ten are not allowed and we were warned that it could be a bumpy and uncomfortable ride.
There is plenty of car parking by Frodingham House and it is a short level walk to Frodingham Station. There is a low ramp giving access into the coaches. Wheelchairs enter through the guards compartment and there is dedicated wheelchair space. There is level access into the refreshment coach but steps down from the platform to the shop and loco shed.