Net Zero Steam becomes a reality at Stainmore Railway Company | So Good News


An innovative approach to sustainable fuel for steam locomotives is well underway with field testing proving highly successful

Kirkby Stephen East in South Cumbria is a historic North Eastern Railway station and boasts a fascinating history regarding the use of renewable energy with a hydroelectric power station powering the station and sheds from as early as 1911.

In keeping with this impressive energy approach from the past, the last six months have seen researchers at the John Tyndall Institute at the University of Central Lancashire along with Stainmore Railway Company and the Locomotive Conservation and Learning Trust work together to build a kindred green ethos to the past.

The project is driven by the rising price of coal, which has seen an astronomical increase of 148% in just one nine-week period earlier in 2022. Ffos-y-fran coal currently costs £580 per tonne and in addition to coal mining license agreement coming to an end this November means the situation for coal is unlikely to improve in the near future.

A number of suppliers have attempted to create alternative fuels for use in steam locomotives, but these have lacked scientific support and have even seen poor product development lead to unintended damage to locomotives.

Currently, the most successful product development is ‘rapeseed briquettes’; which is created by Phoenix Specialty Oils Ltd of Nottingham. This alternative approach to fuel has seen many positives, including the ability for the product to be sourced entirely from the UK. This innovative and sustainable solution could well support the future of the Heritage Railway sector and has been indicated via preliminary laboratory results showing that the still developing biofuel has the prospect of being an alternative to coal.

Rapsbriketten’ sees a total heat output close to that of coal with the biofuel burning about twice as hot, but in half the time. The impressive fuel also sees a cut of around 50% in carbon monoxide and 10% in carbon dioxide emissions.

Heat release rate graph
Heat release rate graph // Credit: John Tyndall Institute

The project is currently in the process of securing funding via the joint Innovate UK/KTN Accelerated Knowledge Transfer scheme to take development further with the aim of creating a fully viable coal substitute.

Laboratory testing in fairness would not provide enough evidence to convince the whole heritage railway sector and for this reason further testing is being carried out in the field at Stainmore Railway Company with the support of JTi and the Locomotive Conservation and Learning Trust.

This testing has seen the Stainmore Railway Company become the very first standard gauge railway in the country to operate a public steam service using a 100% renewable fuel – something that could only have been dreamed of just 12 months before!

Rapeseed briquettes
Rapeseed briquettes // Credit: Stainmore Railway Company

Peckett 0-4-0ST No. 2111 ‘Lytham St. Annes’ is the star of the show and will be used for the entire pioneering process. To make a fair test comparison, the performance of the locomotive was monitored for 14 days previously using Kazakhstan trebles before moving on to the briquettes. Each of the days testing saw exactly the same timetable and trainsets (Gresley BTK 3669 + Mk1 TSO 5049).

Working with the rapeseed briquettes saw the pressure maintained and easily managed the half hour schedule with almost identical appearance and behavior in smoke as for hard coal. A further unexpected positive from the test was a number of passengers who said the briquettes smelled better than the coal.

The briquettes have been successful over a running day but are not yet at a point where they can be transferred to coal and will require further trials at the Stainmore Railway Company along with extensive field testing on a number of railways across different gauges. The next steps will see running trials carried out on a larger locomotive with the much larger firebox of Peckett OY1-S No.2084 ‘FCTingey’ also based at Kirkby Stephen East.

Both the Stainmore Railway Company and the Kirklees Light Railway have acknowledged the fuel’s success. If the bid with Innovate-UK/KTN to further develop the product is successful, we hope it will be available on the market by the end of 2023 and will have a closer resemblance to hard coal.

This impressive and game-changing project has seen a collaboration between the Stainmore Railway Company, the Locomotive Conservation and Learning Trust, Phoenix Specialty Oils Ltd and the John Tyndall Institute (based at UCLan).

If you want to help Stainmore Railway Company why not volunteer – find out more information here:


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