Heritage railway versus the environment.

…the nation burns huge volumes of charcoal on barbecues to create far more CO2 than [heritage railway does] as a whole industry… (Dick Wood, South Devon Railway)

There is an important distinction and something that should be watched for whenever someone justifies fossil fuel use. As I wrote last summer, when you burn charcoal you don’t increase the amount of atmospheric carbon, as it originates from plants. When we burn coal, however, we free carbon that’s been trapped underground for millions of years.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to burn less charcoal (or wood, even), but equating coal and charcoal in this way is misleading.

The problem of fuel for heritage steam trains (and other steam engines) is wicked. The solution will be complex, with no fixed end, and we may never know if we got it right.

Do we let the steam engines stand idle and lose a valuable part of our heritage? Do we allow mining of coal for this fuel, and risk that it is used as a back door for energy generation? Do we import poorer quality coal at a higher footprint and give other nations an excuse to keep mining? Do we convert engines to another combustible fuel, or to a different form of energy entirely?

No solution will be entirely satisfactory I think.