Norfolk's heritage railways face having to import coal

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Father Christmas in front of a North Norfolk Railway steam locomotive this time last year. Heritage railways across the country face having to import coal in the future.  - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's heritage steam trains and other attractions that run on coal may soon have to import it from Russia or even Australia.

Britain's last mine producing coal for steam trains is at Ffos-y-Fran in south Wales, which is due to close in 2022, and a bid to open a new mine near Newcastle has just been refused. 

Sheringham Chamber of Trade chairman Andrew Munden.Photo: KAREN BETHELL

North Norfolk Railway general manager Andrew Munden.  - Credit: KAREN BETHELL

Andrew Munden, general manager of the North Norfolk Railway, said securing a steady supply of good quality coal was "one of the biggest challenges" they would face.

Mr Munden said it would be preferable to have a domestic source of coal to supply Britain's many steam-powered attractions. 

He said the NNR had used coal imported from Poland for a while in the 1990s, but added: "It was not entirely successful because when coal is transported it tends to break down and come out the other end as dust. 

"And every shipload of coal that comes from anywhere is going to have a much greater environmental impact that if it were mined in the UK."

Alistair Baker, general manager of Bressingham Steam and Gardens, near Diss, said it was slightly easier for them to source usable coal because their steam locomotives were smaller. 

Volunteer fireman Jamkes Quinlan shovels coal into the firebox of the Class Y14 locomotive on the No

A volunteer fireman shovels coal into the firebox of the Class Y14 locomotive on the North Norfolk Railway.  - Credit: Archant

Mr Baker said: “At a push, we can use household coal because it won’t slip through the grates in our locos. But if you did that for larger locos at other heritage railways you would be just pouring coal onto the tracks. 

“I’m sure there will be a solution from somewhere, although [heritage railways] are going to be the biggest users of coal.”

Other Norfolk attractions that use coal include the Mid Norfolk, Bure Valley, Whitwell and Reepham heritage railways, Thursford's steam engine collection and several steam-powered boats that operate on the Norfolk Broads.

The Museum of the Broads operates a Victorian steamboat called Falcon which runs on steam coal. Nicola Hems, curator, said: "Falcon was built for the owner of Lacon’s Brewery in 1894 and has seen many changes over the years. 

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"She was fitted with a petrol engine during the Second World War as it was cheaper to run.  We won’t be going that far but if Welsh coal is no longer available, buying Polish coal could be the answer."

Liz Saville-Roberts, a Welsh MP, has said heritage railways may have to source coal from Russia or even Australia in the future.

The Heritage Railway Association is trying to find a way around the impasse and there are hopes coal mining may be allowed to continue in Wales.   

Coal on the back of a North Norfolk Railway locomotive. 

Coal on the back of a North Norfolk Railway locomotive. - Credit: Archant


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