The “right” sort of coal

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Railways like the rest of the travel industry have been hit by the pandemic.But it isn’t just public railways that have been hit hard. Heritage railways – responsible for about €4 billion benefit to the European economy – have been hit by the pandemic but they also face a more expensive future, or at least those that operate steam engines do.

The Dartmouth Steam Railway just one of many that will need the “right” sort of coal. Image – DSR

The problem is coal, the fuel they burn to generate the power to drive the trains.

If you thought like me coal was fairly freely available then you would be surprised to learn that, yes, coal is but not necessarily the right sort of coal.

It appears that washed bituminous lump coal is what is required. Other coals won’t do.

The problem is that we have stopped producing coal of this type. A few days ago, planning permission was refused for a coal mine I Northumberland which would have been a source for the coal in the UK. The alternative is now to import coal from abroad.

And here is the dichotomy.

We know coal is a pollutant so do we import from abroad which is a dirtier coal than we could mine ourselves? Can heritage steam companies locate a cleaner coal and import it at an economic rate, even importing a year’s (or more) supply at once and storing it in a central depository?

Or is the age of steam about to end?

Just because heritage rail needs 26,000 tons of this type of coal each year

Steve Oates from the Heritage Railway Association said that the CO2 generated by importing coal from countries like Russia and the USA produces ten times more emissions than producing it domestically.’

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we turn one of the pits that has this type of coal into a heritage site and, as part of showing the public how a pit operates, 26,000 tons of coal is mined a year!  

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