Britain’s heritage railways are running out of steam. Or, to be more precise, coal. Vintage rail operators across the country have warned that their stocks are now dangerously low and the prospects of replacing them in the near future look bleak.
Many of the UK’s heritage rail companies say they are already having to cut services just as they prepare for the Easter break, when their main operating seasons begin. “It is a very serious problem,” said Paul Lewin, of Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.
“UK coal for steam trains has now gone and our next supply source was to be Russia, which is now off the table for totally understandable reasons. We are in a very tricky position.”
This view was shared by Steve Oates, chief executive of the Heritage Railway Association. “The situation is very serious,” he said.
“Our coal stocks are running out fast and the search is on to find alternative sources from overseas. However, there is no obvious source for the right quality of coal that we require and prices are fluctuating all over the place. So yes, we are having severe difficulties.”
The UK has more than 150 heritage rail companies covering 560 miles of track that runs between 460 stations. These vintage rail operators range from the hugely successful Jacobite steam trains that operate on Network Rail track from Fort William and Mallaig in Scotland to tiny, privately owned narrow-gauge lines that are sometimes only a mile or two in length. Many used to serve now defunct mines or linked isolated towns in spectacularly remote regions and have become major tourist attractions.