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Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway facing uncertain future

Steam railways are facing a crisis as supplies of coal are under threat, the Heritage Railway Association has warned.

This means that the much-loved Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway is now facing an “uncertain future”, according to spokesperson Ian Crowder.

In December, Newcastle City Council refused a planning permission application for a new coal mine at Dewley Hill, outside the city.

The decision means that coal production in the UK has come to an end and has slashed the hopes of Britain’s heritage railways, which need affordable coal to continue running steam trains.

It is estimated that domestic supplies of coal will run out in England this year, and in Wales next year.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said heritage railways such as GWSR would be able to continue to source imported coal, despite restrictions on its use being imposed from 2023 and imports being phased out completely by 2025.

But a drop in demand will inevitably drive up prices, making it unaffordable for many of the smaller heritage railways.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Crowder said: “It’s all very well the government gives us reassurances but that reassurance needs to be in legislation.”

He said heritage railways were “an important tourism attraction for the UK” that bring in millions of visitors.

An all-party parliamentary group on heritage rail described the impact of government plans as a “classic case of the law of unintended consequences”.

The GWSR is a voluntary organisation, owned by its shareholders, who have restored 14 miles of track operating from Broadway to Cheltenham. The line was originally part of the Great Western Railway’s Cheltenham to Stratford-upon-Avon to Birmingham line, known as the Honeybourne line, built in 1900-1906.

It currently has four coal-run steam locomotives.

The line is due to reopen in March, subject to coronavirus restrictions.

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