Coal locomotive, via Istock

Kent and East Sussex Railway trial coal replacement for steam locomotives

New trials have begun on an innovative type of fuel usage for steam locomotives from the Kent and East Sussex Railway, as they seek out a replacement for coal. The trial will see the implementation of an ovoid coal substitute called Heritage Wildfire, formulated to power steam trains whilst promising smokeless journeys and low ash production.

The first supply of this substitute was delivered in early September to the railway’s Rolvenden depot, seeing resident locomotive, Swiftsure, being the first locomotive to assess this new fuel substitute on its passenger service.

While the UK strives to achieve carbon net-zero by 2050, the conversion of traditional coal-based train travel to more environmentally sustainable forms of fuel usage will help to drastically decarbonise heritage routes throughout the British rail sector. Accompanying this fuel shift with the ongoing electrification of many rail lines across the nation, successes of this trial would supply a cheap alternative to coal accompanying the nationwide electrification upgrades across main lines.  

General Manager Robin Coombes said:

“It is early days so the jury is still out, but we very much hope that this could offer a way for us to continue to reduce our dependence on imported coal, alongside bio diesel, whist ensuring that we can continue to operate as a viable, living heritage railway and keep these magnificent machines in active service.

“Alongside our efforts as a responsible business to continue to improve our sustainability credentials, we also need to ensure that future generations are able to understand the important role that coal played in the history of Britain and to tell the story of a time when nothing that was made, moved or eaten was not, somehow, connected to coal.”

As steam returns to the Kent and East Sussex Railway the ovoids will be assessed alongside imported coal from Colombia, to determine whether it can be a viable replacement based on its performance.

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