Local Coal in Scotland ….  no more

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In the week when the UK government authorised the opening of new coal mine in Cumbria to meet industrial needs, a sample news report on current coal and fossil fuels issue from further north.

This year marks the last time when most steam railways in Scotland will have been able to operate using locally sourced coal. Echoing developments right across Europe, active mining from the last open cast sites ceased some time ago, but purchases continued to be made from accumulated stockpiles until emptied.  The Scottish Government also held a consultation this summer to review its “Coal Extraction Policy”.

A good response was submitted on behalf of Scotland’s heritage railways by the Heritage Railway Association emphasising the already recognised importance of our sector to Scotland’s tourism economy – for example the daily Jacobite summer steam service on the scenic West Highland line is regularly used as a flagship for promotion of Scottish Highlands tourism (travelled on by Fedecrail delegates during our 2018 conference programme). As always, the very low pollution element of both the Jacobite and heritage line steam operations was emphasised. A key point is that controlled low-volume extraction of high-quality coal from UK sources is the best way to limit overall emissions.

A summary of the Consultation Responses has recently been published. Other submissions also emphasised the ongoing need for coal for cement, steel, and other industries, while a contrary view was taken by various environmental bodies. Interestingly, some other responses also focussed on Scotland’s industrial heritage, which had been based of course on coal as the primary energy source. As with our sector, industrial museums and heritage sites play an important social, cultural and economic role in many former industrial communities – the history of which should not be ignored, but respondents urged should be valued.

Our response was also passed to a leading Scottish Parliament Member – a former Minister for Business & Enterprise – who replied: “a strategic approach to sustaining our railway companies reliant on coal is something that should be supported – and supportable – throughout the UK”.

It is extremely unlikely that any new licences would be issued to re-start active operations at any of Scotland’s former open cast mines (or new ones!). Future supplies will have to come from elsewhere in the UK (currently still possible from Wales) or from overseas…

Peter Ovenstone, Vice-Chairman, HRA Scottish Advisory Committee

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