North Yorkshire Moors Railway to import coal from Russia as British stocks dwindle

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is to import coal from Russia to keep its steam locomotives running as environmental restrictions begin to bite.

Next week a trial will take place on the heritage line to test the quality of Russian coal sourced via an agent.

Currently, the railway purchases its coal from the Shotton surface mine in Northumberland, which has closed but has stocks remaining.

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Yet restrictions on the use of coal and its production as the country looks towards renewable energy means that the domestic supply will be exhausted within the next two years, forcing British heritage railways to look overseas.

NYMR steam locomotives will soon switch from British to Russian coalNYMR steam locomotives will soon switch from British to Russian coal
NYMR steam locomotives will soon switch from British to Russian coal

The NYMR's general manager Chris Price has argued that the dwindling stocks of British coal will actually have a more adverse impact on the environment as industries which depend on it are forced to import foreign coal that has travelled long distances.

Uncertainty over Russian markets and political volatility in future could even lead to coal having to be shipped from as far away as Australia.

"The government is looking to wind down coal production, and it has driven us into the foreign market. We are now dragging coal halfway across the world, which is more environmentally unfriendly, not less.

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"I believe we will cease to burn British coal on the railway within 12 to 18 months. It's a shame, as the best coal for steam locomotives is British - it suits the engines and it burns well. It will put the price up, but we can cope with that.

British coal production is winding down as the country looks to a greener futureBritish coal production is winding down as the country looks to a greener future
British coal production is winding down as the country looks to a greener future

"The challenge is to maintain the consistency of supply, as it will be harder to get hold of and less viable. Of course we have diesel locomotives too, but they are also burning a fossil fuel."

Mr Price points out that British heritage railways jointly burn 26,000 tonnes of coal per year, and several million tonnes will still need to be sourced for industries such as steel, concrete, brewing and sugar beet production.

NYMR director Howard Johnson, who also owns the tourist attraction Eden Camp, is a former coal wholesaler who has been advising on purchasing. The coal will travel by sea, arriving at either the Humber or Tees docks, from where it will be taken overland by freight train.

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"It won't stop our services, but it will require an awful lot more effort. If Russia stop mining coal, or if things become volatile there, we may have to ship it from Australia, which would be abhorrent.

"It's forcing us to bring in coal from across the globe. Heritage railways have a small environmental impact in return for a big net gain for the economy."

The NYMR already takes part in carbon offsetting projects such as tree planting, and aims to become carbon neutral. Mr Price also points out that the effects of soot and ash pollution are mitigated by the line passing through a rural, sparsely populated area.

"Right now, our focus is on keeping jobs and skills in the area this year."

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