How could Russia-Ukraine war derail UK’s vintage trains?

Heritage Railway Association has raised concerns over coal shortages

Big Zero Report 2022

How could the war in Ukraine make UK’s coal-powered trains run out of steam?

The Heritage Railway Association, an umbrella association that represents the majority of heritage and tourist railways suggests coal shortages are in sight for most British railway operators.

Uncertainty over coal supplies has been driven by the closure of British coal mines and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Heritage Railway Association Chief Executive Steve Oates told ELN: “We’re now seeing the initial impacts of a shortage of the high-quality, low-emissions grades of coal required for steam locomotives.

“A number of our member railways have already decided to reduce the number of trains they operate with steam locomotives to conserve the stocks they have.

“This has been caused by the simultaneous end of access to Welsh steam coal and disruption to shipping routes from Eastern Europe by the war in Ukraine.”

Mr Oates said although railway companies had already worked on exploring alternative fuels, there was still no true alternative that could arrest fears about coal shortages.

It is estimated that the sector uses around 30,000 tonnes of coal a year and represents nearly 0.02% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Steve Oates added: “We feel strongly that there needs to be a fully-informed discussion at the highest levels about coal for purposes other than electricity generation.

“It is still widely used for steel-making, cement manufacture and other industrial uses. Clearly, the long-term solution for these and for responsible, low-volume users of coal like heritage rail is controlled small-scale extraction of high-quality UK Coal.

“That would provide a stable and much lower impact supply than importing fuel from many thousands of miles away, which can vary in quality and produces a much larger environmental impact.”

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