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Wales’ heritage steam railways face ‘critical’ shortage of coal

17 Apr 2022 6 minute read
“Talyllyn at Abergynolwyn” by R~P~M is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With the Easter holidays in full swing, marking the start of the steam railway season in earnest, Wales’ heritage railways are having to rethink their strategies as the coal for the steam engines plummets in availability and rockets in price.

A report from Sky news today reveals that some heritage railways only have one month’s supply of fuel, as the last coal from the Ffos-y-Fran mine near Merthyr, which ceased production in January, has already been delivered.

Ffos-y-Fran was the last of the UK mines which supplied coal suitable for steam trains, and the conflict in Ukraine has meant that supplies of Russian coal have stopped, leaving some railways with only one month’s supply.

Speaking to Sky News, chief executive of the Heritage Railway Association, Steve Oates, said: “Right now – as I talk to you – we’re not sure where the next supply of coal is going to come from.

“So from that perspective, it is critical. There are a few railways that only have stocks to the end of May. The issue is a challenge to our supply of lump coal. One is the end of mining the UK and the other is the horrendous conflict in Ukraine.

“We’ve been looking vigorously around the world for new sources of coal. Currently, we’re looking at Australia, South Africa, Mozambique,” Mr Oates explained.

“I think we’ll be OK, but it’s touch and go.”

The association says it is in talks with the UK and Welsh governments about extending the life of some coal mines to maintain a domestic supply.

Wales’ heritage lines

The UK has more than 150 heritage railways, covering 560 miles of track and 460 stations which are estimated to be worth around half a billion pounds to the UK economy.

With no fewer than 12 Welsh heritage railways, the economic loss to Wales were they to stop running would be hugely significant.

For example, the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway attracts around 200,000 visitors a year and generates an estimated £25m for the local economy, while providing ever moving vantage points from which to take in spectacular views and hidden sights.

Many of the railways are laying on longer trains which run less frequently, which will depend on more customers planning and booking in advance, but with all weather observation carriages, vintage steam locomotives and often lovely cafes at their stations, they make an attractive and fascinating activity for families, wanderers and enthusiasts.

A search of driver’s eye view journeys on YouTube produces a selection of some of the lovely journeys, so here, along with useful links from the Little Railway Company, are some tasters either to whet the appetite of the curious traveller, or to get a glimpse of the journeys should they become difficult to experience first-hand.

Whether you want to sit back and take in Wales’ dramatic mountains or lakes, historic industrial heartlands or spectacular coastlines there is a fine old train which will fit the bill.

Across the websites there are a number of special events scheduled and options to book for personal occasions, and prices for the family outings will vary,  and for the keen visitor there is an option to become a friend of the heritage railways and get a year’s access to railways across the UK for a year with an InterRail ticket

Bala Lake

Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake Railway), a 9-mile return journey alongside Bala Lake in Snowdonia National Park. All trains start and finish at Llanuwchllyn station with its café, locomotive sheds and heritage centre.

Brecon Mountain

Brecon Mountain

The steam railway that runs high into the Brecon Beacons on a 10-mile round trip, surrounded by superb scenery. Travel from Pant near Merthyr Tydfil along the beautiful Taf Fechan Reservoir to Torpantau.


For over 100 years this railway has connected Fairbourne with the sea at Barmouth Ferry. Experience the beauty of the Mawddach Estuary on this miniature (12.25-inch gauge) coastal railway. Ride all day with a Day Rover ticket.


From the new £1.25 million two-platform layout at Harbour Station, Porthmadog, travel to Tan-y-Bwlch Station. Then onwards to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Connect with the Welsh Highland Railway for 40 unbroken miles of adventure.

Llanberis Lake

Situated in the heart of Snowdonia, the heritage steam locomotives take you on a five-mile return journey alongside Llyn Padarn lake, in the heart of Snowdonia. All tickets are for return travel.

Snowdon Mountain

Snowdon Mountain Railway has been welcoming visitors to Llanberis to experience the awe-inspiring journey by rack railway to the summit of Snowdon since 1896.


The world’s first preserved steam railway. Steam through the charming Fathew valley in Snowdonia National Park. The journey covers more than seven miles of spectacular scenery within sight of one of Britain’s highest mountains, Cadair Idris.

Vale of Rheidol

Travel on the Vale of Rheidol Railway and explore the stunning Rheidol Valley. Opened in 1902, the railway has been delighting passengers young and old for over a century. The train climbs 700ft (200m) in the 11.75 miles from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge.

Welsh Highland

Starting from beneath the castle walls in historic Caernarfon, the railway climbs to the foot of Snowdon before dropping again to sea level at the harbour in Porthmadog. Connecting with Ffestiniog Railway, experience 40 unbroken miles of adventure.

Welsh Highland Heritage

Welsh Highland Heritage

The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway offers you three experiences for the price of one: a train ride, a miniature railway and an interactive museum, with tickets valid all day. Journey from Porthmadog to Pen y Mount.

Welshpool & Llanfair

Linking the market town of Welshpool to the rural community of Llanfair Caereinion, this narrow gauge steam railway has tight curves and steep gradients. A 16-mile return journey through the beautiful Mid-Wales countryside.


Take a gentle trip down the beautiful Dulas Valley on this family-friendly steam railway. Journey on a completely new train with modern recreations of the original Corris Victorian carriages and a Corris steam locomotive.

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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
2 years ago

Shortage of coal is ironic seeing once Wales was the fossil fuel equivalent of an oil rich Middle Eastern state. The only option if not able to source coal from Wales itself is to do what the Tories did back in the 80s by buying in cheaper coal from Poland.

Who can forget the Conservatives who recently claimed credit for destroying the Welsh mining industry that put thousands on the employment scrapheap by stating they were saving our environment while cynically buying cheaper coal from Poland to burn in polluting Welsh power stations. As said, ironic.

2 years ago

Would it be so terrible if Ifor The Engine and co were respectfully retired? Steam trains are merely a polluting, wistful reminder of times gone by, when England (sorry Britain) robbed (sorry ruled) the world. Would it be so terrible if tourists had to walk up Yr Wyddfa instead of having a cart of empire shuttle them up there? If instead of a cafe and toilets there were just the silent majesty of nature? Most of the heritage railways could be pulled by electric engines anyway

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