Miniature railway leads UK in use of bio-coal

Loading the Ecoal onto a locomotive on the Bure Valley Railway.

Loading the Ecoal onto a locomotive on the Bure Valley Railway. - Credit: Supplied by the Heritage Railway Association

Coal powered the Industrial Revolution and drove Britain headlong into the modern era. 

But the mined material is no longer a favoured source of fuel, and as times change ever more of the country's remaining coal users are looking  to alternatives.

And leading the way is the Aylsham-to-Wroxham Bure Valley Railway, which has just has the most extensive trial of 'bio-coal' even conducted in the country. 

The 15-inch gauge locomotive 'Blickling Hall' used for the trials

The 15-inch gauge locomotive 'Blickling Hall' used for the trials at the Bure Valley Railway's Aylsham station. - Credit: Supplied by the Heritage Railway Association

From June 11 to 14, the railway burnt the usual coal it sources from the Ffos-y-Fran in Wales on some services, and 'eco-fuels' called Briteflame,  Homefire Ovals and Homefire Ecoal50 on others. 

Andrew Barnes, the railway's managing director, said the trial was a success.


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Mr Barnes said:  “Fuel in the tender was weighed, the amount of water consumption and ash left in the ash pan and smoke box were also measured.

"Tranducers [devices which convert energy from one form to another] were rigged to a computer in the lead carriage to measure smoke box vacuum, exhaust performance, and speed.

Ecoal measured into small amounts at the Bure Valley Railway. 

Ecoal measured into small amounts at the Bure Valley Railway. - Credit: Supplied by the Heritage Railway Association

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“All three fuels functioned well but Homefire Ecoal50, made up of 50pc biomass, notably crushed olive husks which would otherwise end up in landfill with the associated risks of methane, and 50pc traditional solid fuel fines, was an unqualified success giving the same performance as our usual Welsh coal whilst emitting up to 40pc lower emissions.” 

Bure Valley Railway celebrate 25 years since the branch line was closed in 1982 and the track lifted

Andrew Barnes of the Bure Valley Railway. - Credit: MARK BULLIMORE

The trial was overseen by the Advanced Steam Traction Trust (ASTT), and Heritage Railway Association chief executive Steve Oates was also on hand. He said: "It’s excellent to see one of our member railways taking the lead.

"The timing couldn’t have been better. As carbon came under the spotlight at the G7 summit, a UK steam railway has been testing an alternative to fossil fuel." 

Ecoal burning in a fire box on the Bure Valley Railway.

Ecoal burning in a fire box on the Bure Valley Railway. - Credit: Supplied by the Heritage Railway Association

John Hind, ASTT chairman said:  “We are not only looking at performance here but how the bio-fuel burns and what will be acceptable to passengers?  Homefire Ecoal50 is the nearest to recreating that unique ambience visitors expect recreating the smell of heritage steam.” 

All three products were from a range of manufactured smokeless fuel samples given to the railway for the trials by CPL Industries.  

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