Minister to visit heritage lines 

A key government minister is set to visit steam railways this summer as the campaign to secure the future of the sector takes another major step forward. 

Two high-level meetings with ministers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on consecutive days in late June have secured vital support for heritage railways in their fight to secure their long-term future. 

Leaders from the heritage rail sector met Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, in Westminster on June 28. Spearheaded by Heritage Railway Association President, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the meeting was the direct result of debate in the House of Lords about the perilous state of steam coal supply to the heritage sector, caused by the end of UK mining and the war in Ukraine.  

The meeting, which was also attended by HRA Chief Executive Steve Oates, James Hervey-Bathurst Chairman of the Heritage Fuels Alliance, and Heritage Rail all-party parliamentary group secretary Chris Austin brought the substantial economic and tourism benefits that heritage steam delivers to the attention of Lord Parkinson.   

Heritage railways generate more than £600m for the UK economy each year and are critical to the tourism economy of many areas. The UK is the world leader in heritage rail with more than 170 heritage railways. The sector attracts over 13m visitors a year, directly employs 4,000 people, and is supported by a staggering 22,000 volunteers. Despite its large role in the visitor economy, the sector produces less than 0.02% of UK carbon emissions. 

Government officials are now set to co-ordinate a meeting between DCMS and the other departments with an interest in the supply of coal to the heritage steam sector – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  

The Heritage Railway Association is also set to facilitate a number of visits to heritage railways to allow Lord Parkinson to learn more about the sector and its challenges during the months ahead.  

The following day Co-chair of the Heritage Rail APPG, Rt Hon Liz Saville-Roberts MP joined Lord Faulkner in a meeting with DCMS Minister, Nigel Huddleston MP whose department is responsible for the planned Stockton and Darlington Railway 200th anniversary celebrations in 2025 in which the part played by steam power in the development of Britain’s railways will feature strongly.  The Minister indicated that funding sources may be available to aid research and development into longer-term alternatives to coal for locomotives.  

President of the Heritage Railway Association, Lord Faulkner, said: “The solution to the need to establish long-term, reliable supply of fuel for steam locomotives is not going be found quickly.  But these meetings are yet further evidence that progress is being made, and I am encouraged by the positive responses of both DCMS ministers we met.  

“It’s clear that they understand the importance of heritage rail to the cultural and economic prosperity of the country – and how vital the supply of steam locomotive fuel is to that.”  

Liz Saville Roberts, Co-chair of the All-Party Group said "The future of heritage railways is vital, particularly in constituencies like mine in Dwyfor Meirionydd where the Great Little Trains of Wales are a mainstay of the economy.  We have worked hard to bring those involved together to look at alternative supplies and alternatives to coal to keep the trains running."  

HRA Chief Executive, Steve Oates, added: “These meetings represent solid progress, but they’re also important incremental steps to achieving what the heritage railway sector needs – stability and long-term security of steam locomotive operation for generations to come. 

“In the immediate future, we need governments to look sensibly at the controlled extraction of high-quality UK steam coal specifically for responsible, low-volume users like heritage rail as the most sustainable and environmentally conscious solution available right now.” 

The entire heritage steam sector in the UK, including traction engines, steamboats and stationary engines use in the region of 35,000 tons of coal each year. In the region of 5m tonnes of coal is still used every year in the UK by industries like steel and cement. That is in addition to a resurgent demand for power generation following government announcements that coal fuelled power stations would be asked to extend their operations beyond Autumn.