In response to an August 2019 article in The Railway Hub drawing attention to the threat of a government crackdown on the burning of coal on heritage steam railways, ASTT approached Steve Oates of the Heritage Railway Association (HRA) to offer assistance in preparing a submission to a government inquiry into “carbon offsetting in transport“.
The HRA had already been working in close cooperation with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail (APPG) which in July 2019 had prepared a report titled “Steaming Ahead” which focussed on the availability of good quality coal needed to maintain the heritage railway industry. The report raised a number of concerns, including:
“The United Kingdom, its regional economies, its tourism industry and the future skills base of the mainline rail sector need their heritage railways, and the core requirement for most of the railways is the steam locomotive, which in turn require good quality coal. The best type of coal for these locomotives is that mined in Britain and these mines do not have a medium or long term future, so how do we ensure the future of this thriving and important sector?
“Concerns about climate change have rightly led to moves to reduce the burning of fossil fuel, but the intention of Government was not to stop people enjoying the experience of seeing and riding behind a working steam locomotive. In this classic case of the law of unintended consequences, we need to find a way to enable heritage railways to continue steaming into the future. We intend to pursue this with the Government departments and ministers involved over the next few months.”
In October 2019, ASTT took the opportunity to bolster HRA’s response to the government’s inquiry into carbon offsets, by undertaking its own statistical analysis of heritage rail emissions. This concluded that heritage steam’s CO2 output is insignificant in comparison to the UK’s total carbon emissions, amounting to just 0.02% – i.e. one part in 5000 – of that total, and even less when compared to total emissions of “carbon-equivalents”.
ASTT also estimated that the application of carbon offsets to mainline excursions might add an average of no more than £2 per ticket. Whilst it is more difficult to estimate fare increase that might apply to heritage line operations, it can be estimated that carbon offsetting might add a cost of 10p per seat-mile, or perhaps £2 per return ticket over a 10-mile railway.