North Wales's Heritage Rail Sector

1. Questions to the Minister for Economy – in the Senedd on 20 September 2023.

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Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative


1. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure suitable coal supplies for north Wales’s heritage rail sector? OQ59933

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour 1:31, 20 September 2023

Can I thank Sam Rowlands for that question, and say that we do greatly value our heritage railways? But, all sectors of our society must play their part in addressing the climate emergency. We would encourage the industry to work with the Welsh Government to develop transition plans in line with the net-zero targets.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 1:32, 20 September 2023

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that initial response. As you say, the support for the heritage rail sector is welcome, because, of course, across the United Kingdom, the heritage railways are worth around £0.5 billion to the economy. You'll be aware of some significant heritage railways in my patch, in north Wales—the Ffestiniog and Welsh highland railway partially running through the region, attracting around 200,000 visitors a year. And there is, of course, also the Llangollen to Corwen railway, which generates around £8.5 million for the local economy. I must declare a personal interest there—my father volunteers from time to time on that particular railway and, I must say, always does a fantastic job, I'm sure. Wales, of course, is rich with coal that would be perfect for use in the heritage rail sector. It's high quality and burns more efficiently than other types of coal, and, of course, does not need to be transported very far at all. Instead, at the moment, the sector is now having to look at importing coal from other countries—from the other side of the world, at times—with some of them having questionable human rights. And I want to stress to you, Deputy Minister, the money generated and the jobs supported by the heritage rail sector, but all of this relies on the use of coal at the moment. So, I wonder what you can do to ensure that coal from the United Kingdom can be used for this purpose, instead of having to import it from overseas, which will risk having a much worse environmental impact.

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour 1:33, 20 September 2023

Can I thank Sam Rowlands for those very important points in his supplementary question? And, again, can I reiterate that we have long been supportive of our heritage railways, and we do absolutely understand the economic value of these important cultural and heritage assets? We've invested in many of them, in supporting their presence and their ability to continue. In fact, I was on the Llangollen railway not so long ago—I had a journey along the Llangollen railway. And I'm very pleased that the local volunteers—maybe your dad's one of them—keep me regularly informed on the development and the work that's going on there. And in fact, I've got one in my own constituency, of course—the Brecon mountain railway. So, I do know the value of them, absolutely. But we are aware of the challenges that the sector faces, for all the reasons that you've set out, and that they do currently rely on the extraction and consumption of coal products. So, our efforts as a Government now are focused on making the transition to net-zero emissions a just transition. So, we are looking to get the heritage railways to move away from the use of coal. Because one of the things that I would have to say is that the heritage sector alone can't sustain the remaining coal mines that we have in Britain, including in my own constituency—the opencast mine of Ffos-y-frân. So, what we want to do is encourage the heritage rail industry to work with Government to develop those transition plans. And there's a growing body of evidence suggesting that the sector could reduce its reliance on fossil fuels through continued efforts to trial alternative renewable fuels, and we've got examples of biomass logs, wood briquettes, biodiesel and, of course, the use of hydrogen fuel cell engines. So, what I would say, in conclusion, is that Welsh Government absolutely stands ready to support the sector through this transition, and I would encourage heritage railways to engage with my officials, to discuss this and to identify what funding might be available to help them into that transition.