Let’s talk about coal....

Chris Price, General Manager, at North Yorkshire Moors Railway

In June 1967, a small group of enthusiastic people in North Yorkshire, wanted to see the Grosmont to Pickering train line brought back to life. They were granted line access and permitted to run trains, thus, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) was born. 53 years later, we have over 1000 volunteers, approximately 120 staff, over 1000 passenger services running each year, and of course, we still hold our ever-popular events such as the steam gala and the Railway in Wartime event.

The first steam Railway locomotive was built in 1802 and the first passenger steam locomotive took to the rails in 1825, these engines were viewed with awe and admiration. 200 years down the line, and that same awe and enthusiasm is still very much alive. Alongside other heritage railways we collectively welcome 13 million visitors annually. Our aim is to provide an authentic evocation of the steam age for everyone to enjoy, helping to educate, preserve the past, and protect the legacy of steam travel for future generations.

In February this year, DEFRA announced that by the end of 2023, there will be a ban on sales of the less refined house coals and wet wood in England. As the General Manager of a heritage railway, and Vice Chairman Heritage Railway Association (HRA), it would be remiss of me not to talk about what it means for us.

Simply put, the ban does not apply to coal used in heritage steam locomotives and will not prevent the many heritage railways in the UK from continuing to use the fuels they need to operate.

However, I also want to make it clear that I fully appreciate the concerns behind the move. As with any organisation, especially one that’s open to public visitors, matters concerning the environment, health, and safety are top of our priority list and something we take great responsibility for.

Therefore, we’ve been actively working with the government, through the HRA, and engaged in processes that will mitigate the impact of emissions on the environment. Whilst we accept this ban is specifically to reduce pollution, we need to remember the quantities of coal burnt in the heritage rail sector is small and its environmental impact relatively minimal. In fact, there is twice as much charcoal burnt on BBQs every year as coal on steam locomotives, and charcoal also puts out the same PM2.5 particles as coal. Coal used in the whole heritage sector, (not just trains) produces a carbon output similar to approximately 300 single flights across the Atlantic every year (of which there are over 80,000 each year) and the total lumped coal requirement, (not just steam engines) across the country represents less than 2% of the UK’s annual usage.

We also do what we can to improve the locomotive efficiency; by pre-heating locomotive boilers with a warming fire the day before use, this helps reduce emissions from trying to raise steam too quickly. We use the best quality coal, which helps ensure it is burnt as efficiently as possible too. We are also working with the Northern Forest Partnership to look at ways we can work towards carbon neutrality before the Governments target date of 2050.

DCMS Under Secretary of State Lord Ashton has also confirmed his department is working to help achieve a balance between environmental and public health protection and ensuring the UK’s heritage vehicle industry continues to thrive.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has been around for 53 years and we’re here to ensure we’ll be around for many more to come. We are, however, mindful of our environment responsibilities and will always strive to examine how we impact it.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is an award-winning charitable trust that carries 300,000 unique passengers every year. It is Britain’s most popular heritage railway and is one of the best visitor attractions in the North East. Learn more about the railways efforts to its long term sustainability by visiting Yorkshire's Magnificent Journey Appeal. 

The NYMR trust relies heavily on donations and the work of its many volunteers. The 180-year old railway needs to raise £1 million by 2022 so its railway bridges and its 50-100-year-old vehicles can remain viable.

  • The NYMR cares for operating and developing the railway it owns from Pickering to Grosmont.
  • The heritage railway operates over Network Rail from Grosmont to Whitby.
  • The charity provides a high quality, safe and authentic evocation of the steam age for the public.
  • The NYMR is an Educational Charitable Trust. Providing education for all ages.
  • The railway is a fully accredited museum.

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