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<< Profile 38 >> PKA/PQA 3-axle Car Transporter Wagons
Build Details: 1981 SNAV, France and 1983 Fauvet-Girel, France
Numbering: RLS92000-92111, RLS92300-92345 plus various RIV numbers
Bogies / Suspension:
Published Drawings:
Areas of operation: Main lines nationwide
Main liveries: Various
Summary: The PKA was a three-axle articulated vehicle carrier of French design, built in the early 1980s. Coming in double-deck (later recoded PQA) and single-deck varieties, a total of 158 wagons were built, permanently coupled into 79 sets. They were hired to a number of different companies and wore a corresponding range of liveries. From the early 1990s, most were renumbered to permit operation on train ferries and later through the channel tunnel. In recent years the few remaining domestic sets have found alternate use carrying track-relaying equipment.

History: Compared to other rail-borne cargoes, motorcars are bulky but relatively light and can be carried on double-deck wagons within the UK loading gauge. Even with small wheels, bogie wagons such as the Cartic-4 and Procor 80 require the decks to dip between the bogies to achieve this, thus limiting the length of usable deck. They also have the limitation of requiring loading ramps at two different levels. Wagon leasing company Railease ordered a batch of new wagons in 1981 to a design already established in France. Built by SNAV (Societe Nouvelle des Ateliers, De Venissieux) in France, it was a two-part vehicle carried on just three axles. The use of small wheels, and the less bulky articulation, meant that both decks were almost flat throughout, increasing the usable space. For a total length of just over 88ft, the decks were 85ft 9in (lower) and 87ft 1in (upper), allowing a pair to carry 12 cars. With 34ft 2in between each axle, these wagons had possibly the longest wheelbase seen on BR. An innovation in the design was that the upper deck was hinged about half way along each section, the outer ends being suspended by cables from towers on the bodysides. This enabled the upper deck to be lowered to form a ramp, meaning that the wagons could be loaded using a single, platform-height access point.

The wagons were delivered in 1981 and given numbers in the RLS92000-92111 range, each set being made up of two consecutively numbered wagons. The TOPS code of PKA was applied with AARKND variations PKA-A and PKA-B for the control (with brake wheel) and follower section respectively. Design codes were believed to be PK001A/B but, as will be seen, these were to change within a few years. The type also had a name, Autic, this being a variation on the earlier Cartic and similarly derived from automotive/articulated. The first few wagons were painted in yellow with CarTrain branding, and 20 sets entered service carrying Leyland and Talbot cars from Kings Norton in mid-1982. Other batches were used by Renault from Goole (14 sets) and MAT Transauto (21 sets). Liveries were varied and included orange with a black sash, and blue (for MAT).

A second set of wagons from the same builder was ordered by Railease very shortly afterwards, these being also delivered in 1981. Although similar in configuration, they omitted the upper deck and supports, and had a more pronounced dip in the lower deck. They were also six feet shorter per set and were intended for the transportation of larger cars and commercial vehicles. Predictably, this type became known as the Comtic. 30 wagons were built, numbered RLS92300-92329 and formed into 15 pairs. A further 16 wagons were built by Fauvet-Girel in 1983, numbered RLS92330-92345. This later batch featured FAT29 suspension instead of the Double Link type found on the Autics and earlier Comtics. The Comtics had a slightly higher gross laden weight (24t against 21.5t) and the sturdier FAT29 suspension was more suitable. The first batch of Comtics was upgraded to the same standard over the next few years. Main users were MAT and Silcock, with wagons being painted yellow, blue or orange.

The Comtics had the same PKA TOPS code as the Autics, distinguished by amended AARKNDs of PKA-C and PKA-D for the control and follower sections respectively. The design codes are again unclear, although all were to PK001C/D by 1989. It does seem odd that the change of suspension was not reflected in revised design codes.

Some time between 1982 and 1984 the decision was taken to recode the PKA Autic double-deck wagons as PQAs, leaving the PKA code for the single-deck Autics. The basic design codes and AARKNDs were changed to PQ001A/PQ001B and PQA-A/PQA-B accordingly. In common with other types of car-carrying wagons, some of the autics were modified in the latter part of the 1980s to try and limit the damage that could be caused by vandals. The MAT wagons were fitted with mesh side screens, while others had side panels and/or roofs fitted. This resulted in a whole series of new design codes in the range PQ001C to PQ001P while new AARKNDs included PQA-C/PQA-D (for wagons with roofs) and PQA-E/PQA-F (for wagons with sides and roofs). In terms of traffic, the Leyland/Talbot and Renault flows had both ceased by 1992 but a new user was Carter, carrying imported cars from Queenborough in Kent.

Although the opening of the channel tunnel was just a few years away, Procor modified 16 PQA double-deck wagons for ferry use in 1990. Renumbered as 43.70.4289.000 to 007 (each twin being given a single number), they had a revised TOPS code of PIA (PIA-A) and were only authorised to work between the UK and France. Further transfers occurred over the next two years and by 1992 exactly half of the batch had been dealt with, the new numbers reaching 43.70.4289.027. Most of the single-deck PKA wagons were also internationalised, W H Davis modifying 28 wagons in 1991. The work involved fitting ballast weights and renumbering as 43.70.4290.000 to 013. These wagons were also coded PIA, with new AARKND of PIA-H, and were assigned design code PIE755. In about 1992 the numbers of both batches were modified, wagons becoming, while the single-deck wagons were renumbered in the range.

In 1993, one of the single-deck PIA-H wagons was trialled by the Network Southeast Civil Engineers, with a view to using the type as plant carriers, replacing elderly Flatrol wagons. The trial was not successful, probably due to the high weight of the items (such as bulldozers) to be carried. After testing other types of wagons, the requirement eventually led to a new-build of well wagons in 2000.

Further transfers to international use took place in the second half of the 1990s, wagons now being authorised to use the channel tunnel. Numbers 43.70.4288.028 to 055 were issued, suggesting that all remaining PQAs were so converted. The renumbered wagons were to a range of design codes (PIE819/820/836 and 837). The delivery of newer car-carrying wagons (including the fully enclosed WIA type) seems to have rendered the PIA fleet as surplus, and all but three were withdrawn by 2008.

By 1999, 16 PKAs remained in domestic stock (one set having been withdrawn) and all were allocated to use by Silcock. By 2006 this traffic had ceased and some of the wagons were redeployed as equipment carriers for infrastructure company Jarvis. They were used to carry Donelli single track relaying machines, latterly carried on elderly Lowmac wagons. The PKAs were ideal for this task as the Donelli machines were light but tall (thus needing the low deck height) and operated in pairs (one could be carried on each section of the PKA). The wagons only had minor modifications for this role but new AARKNDs (PKA-G/H) and design codes (PK002E/F) were issued. Both these codings are unusual and suggest that the PKA and PQA series were never fully separated. For example, there was never a PKA-F but there was a PQA-F. Similarly, the design codes of PK002E/F follow on from PK001C/D in a non-standard way. Jarvis used at least three pairs of wagons but only two remained by 2006. They are still in stock in early 2008, based at York.



Links: Photos of double-deck Autics on Paul Bartlett's website

Photos of single-deck Comtics on Paul Bartlett's website

Updates: 15/03/2013: Photo links (finally) updated.
For more pictures see the Links section at the bottom

PKA RLS92336+92337 at Millerhill, 21st July 1984.
Paul Bartlett

Page added: 23/12/2007 Spotted an error? Got some additional info?
Please e-mail me at tom (at)
Last edited: 16/06/2008