Heritage railways facing 'perfect storm' over coal shortages

Heritage railways north Norfolk

Clockwise from left: the Bure Valley Railway; Andrew Barnes, managing director of the Bure Valley Railway; Graham Hukins, commercial manager at the North Norfolk Railway. - Credit: Bure Valley Railway/Mark Bullimore/Leigh Caudwell

Heritage railways in north Norfolk are planning to run full services this year despite shortages of coal due to the war in Ukraine and a mine closure in Wales.

Across the UK several steam trains have reported problems caused by a lack of supplies.

In January, the Ffos-y-fran mine in South Wales stopped production, earlier than expected. It was the last of the UK's mines which provided suitable coal.

The invasion of Ukraine then put further pressure on the global market.

Graham Hukins, North Norfolk Railway commercial manager

Graham Hukins, North Norfolk Railway commercial manager - Credit: Leigh Caudwell

But Graham Hukins, commercial manager of the North Norfolk Railway, said there has been "no impact so far" on its services.

"We've bought ahead to see us through until mid-summer. We're holding much larger stocks than we normally do," he said.

"Our whole raison d'etre is to keep these magnificent steam engines running."

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He said it was possible that services will be impacted but that would be "a last resort".

"Finding coal is the issue. There's so little around," he added.

An alternative source would be coal imported from Kazakhstan - although supply routes across the Black Sea and via the port of Mariupol have been disrupted by the war in Ukraine.

Steaming along on the North Norfolk Railway.

Steaming along on the North Norfolk Railway. - Credit: Steve Allen

"We've seen a huge increase in the price of coal, more than double the price compared to this time last year," Mr Hukins said.

For now, though, ticket prices will stay where they are.

Bure Valley Railway celebrate 25 years since the branch line was closed in 1982 and the track lifted

Andrew Barnes, director of the Bure Valley Railway. - Credit: MARK BULLIMORE

Andrew Barnes, managing director of Bure Valley Railway (BVR) and a director of the Heritage Railway Association, said the industry was facing "a perfect storm".

Despite the pressures, the BVR, which burns 120 tonnes of coal a year, is "in a fortunate position" due to stock they have already bought, he said.

"The real challenge is going to be later this year, and into next year, because where's the coal coming from?"

He said it could be imported from Colombia or Australia but the carbon footprint is "ridiculous".

Ecoal burning in a fire box on the Bure Valley Railway.

Ecoal burning in a fire box on the Bure Valley Railway. - Credit: Supplied by the Heritage Railway Association

Mr Barnes also said the BVR has been experimenting with e-coal, which combines coal dust with byproducts of olive oil production and molasses.

The BVR will not increase ticket prices this year, he said, but they will have to go up next year.

Meanwhile, the Mid Norfolk Railway is conserving supplies of coal by running only to Thruxton, while there will be no steam services on weekdays.