Ffos-y-Fran: Railway association warns importing coal will increase pollution
The association which represents Heritage Railways is warning that the decision to cease mining at Ffos-Y-Fran will almost certainly increase pollution, as they would need to import coal from thousands of miles away.
Ffos-y-Fran is the only UK mine producing high-quality, low-emission ‘steam coal’ used by Wales’ heritage railways to power their steam trains.
Last week an application to vary a planning condition to allow mining there until 31 March 2024 was rejected by Merthyr Tydfil Council’s planning committee.
The application sought an extension to the mineral extraction and plans for restoration, with coal extraction to stop by the end of March, 2024 and final restoration to be completed by 30 June, 2026 rather than the original date of 31 December 2024.
The decision to cease mining at Ffos-y-Fran coincides with global shipping routes being disrupted by the war in Ukraine, impacting the availability of high-quality coal and raising concerns about supply security.
The Heritage Railway Association has visited Ffos-y-Fran and met with local politicians and stakeholders in a bid to stress the importance of good quality, low-emission steam coal like that mined at the site to the future of heritage rail.
In total, heritage railways across the UK use around 30,000 tonnes of coal a year, which is equivalent to what a single coal-fired power station would use in a week.
Although alternative fuels for heritage steam locomotives are being researched and developed, there are none that can completely replace coal.
According to industry publication RailAdvent, the UK’s heritage rail sector draws visitors from around the world and generates more than £600m for the economy each year, as well as directly supporting around 4,000 jobs.
In Wales, the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway attracts around 200,000 visitors a year and generates an estimated £25m for the local economy.
Heritage Railway Association Chief Executive, Steve Oates, said: “On the face of it, I’m sure many people do believe that ending coal mining at Ffos-Y-Fran is good for the environment. But the reality is that overall emissions are almost certainly going to increase as a result of the closure.
“There’s still a belief in this country that coal is inextricably linked to power stations. That’s not the case anymore. Coal in the UK is chiefly used by a relatively small but important number of sectors and the volumes involved are pretty small – but the impact of having to import from thousands of miles away is huge.
“Most of those sectors still do not have a viable alternative to coal that they can turn to right now – no matter how much research might be going into an eventual solution.
“We think that this is a very short-sighted decision, which is likely to have dire longer-term consequences. We await a decision from the mine owners as to whether they will appeal or take the issue to the Welsh Government.
“We know that many in the Welsh Government understand just how pivotal supply of coal is to the heritage rail sector.
“Wales was the birthplace of railway preservation and has an unparalleled heritage rail visitor offer that helps people the world over appreciate stunning scenery without dependency upon the private car. The same is true in places like Pickering, Swanage and Bridgnorth too.
“I hope that the strategic value of this mine will mean the bigger picture can be properly considered before it’s too late.”
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