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Where does the best (and worst) coal come from?

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by R.W. Grant, Dec 26, 2016.

  1. R.W. Grant

    R.W. Grant New Member

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    Just a basic question about what fuels your many steam locomotives
    Dick
     
  2. marshall5

    marshall5 Active Member

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    Many of the preserved lines now use Welsh Steam Coal from Fros-y-Fran in S.Wales (excuse spelling) after many years of it being unavailable. It is soft so there is a lot of slack with it but it burns 'clean' and has a high calorific value (c. 14,000 BTU/lb IIRC). Others use Scottish coal which tends to be smokier. All this is open cast mined as the last deep mine in the U.K. has now closed. A lot is also imported from Russia, Poland and even from as far away as Colombia but its quality varies. A few years ago I had some Eastern European stuff that gave off fumes that made me so nauseous I had to get off the engine. Hope this answers your question.
    Ray.
     
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  3. R.W. Grant

    R.W. Grant New Member

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    Thank you Ray,
    I thought Welsh Steam Coal was not very available but at least you do have some of the "good stuff" to run on. May I assume that the imported coal is more expensive than domestic coal regardless of the quality? Taking into account the shipping costs. Good to know the Welsh coal is back! Great coal could be had from the US but costs may be prohibitive.
    I heat my house with Anthracite. No natural gas is available and electricity is crazy pricewise and so is propane. Very happy with my coal heat but I have an advantage in that I live close to the coal region in Pennsylvania. Thanks much for your reply.
     
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  4. Big Al

    Big Al Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Moderator Friend

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    A couple of general points about coal that may be obvious.
    1. Quality and price are connected but the same source does not always guarantee the same quality. That said, if you pay top dollar then you usually get something with better combustion.
    2. Not all locomotives are happy with all types of quality and loco owners will have there own view on what works best. The problem sometimes occurs when coal is taken on board mid way through a steam trip and away from the supply back at the depot. Many a steam charter has suffered from this. Add to that the stop/start nature of some main line trips where trains are parked in loops to let service trains pass and you always run the risk of the fire dying on you or clinkering with inevitable steaming problems.
    Sometimes it just doesn't help to try and slot steam services in and around busy networks but, amazingly it still happens.
     
  5. 3155

    3155 New Member

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    We have for the last couple of years used Russian coal as it is cheaper than Scottish, this year it has come by road from Ireland as it is cheaper than importing it via Scotland, work that one out?

    3155
     
  6. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    Is anything mined in the Forest of Dean these days?
     
  7. Andy B

    Andy B Member

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    Just for everyone's interest I hear the Welsh will be approx £170 a ton delivered from Jan 1st. Just the price of oil going up adds to the delivery costs. There's no way some railways could now change from Welsh back to say Scottish due to the horrendous smoke it can create. Once your neighbours have got used to no smoke at all on the Welsh, I suspect it wouldnt be long before the phone started ringing.
     
  8. flaman

    flaman Well-Known Member

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    When we started, nearly 30 years ago, we used Welsh steam coal, it was clean burning, but had a high shale content and was relatively expensive. We then went over to Nottinghamshire hard coal, but this became unavailable so we went over to Scottish, which we have used for almost 20 years, until recently when it too became unavailable.
    We have recently started using Ffos-y-Fran, which is far less smokey than Scottish and significantly cheaper.
     
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  9. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

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    Ffos-y-Fran is amazingly economic, especially in a superheated locomotive and, as has been said, is virtually smokeless. What a contrast with the marvellous Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 No. 611 which Youtube shows throwing out pitch black smoke which would not be tolerated for a nanosecond in the U.K. Something evidently designed and made to the highest standards though, which, along with the French 2-3-2 U1, ought to cause British enthusiasts really to think.

    PH
     
  10. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I cut my teeth on Welsh coal when on the Talyllyn. Having gone over to Yorkshire hard coal and later Scottish hard coal, I'd not want to go back to the Welsh stuff. You get instant heat from the hard coal and, although there are more volatiles, with locos with a brick arch it is not difficult to keep the smoke down to acceptable levels if you know what you are doing. Wherever the coal comes from, the quality does vary because that is the nature of the stuff, even within a seam. Coal mining is an extractive industry and the coal that you mine today cannot be the coal that you mine tomorrow. A concentration site such as Killoch will take coal from several opencast sites and several different seams so is bound to be variable.
     
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  11. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

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    I am sure you are an excellent fireman but comments about "instant heat" remind me of similar ones in the bad old days of appalling Daw Mill coal which, in the hands of the less accomplished, could smoke out a small town. The genuine, if unspoken, reason for buying the stuff was "it's cheap". To this day, if I visit a steam railway where the locomotive is blackening nearby brickwork. my reactions are as much "they must be short of money" as "the fireman hasn't got it quite right".

    Any steam locomotive, whether it is burning low smoke fuel or not will emit dust and grit.Someone I know who volunteers in a gift shop on a steam railway observes she can tell if it is an "ordinary" day or some sort of Gala by the amount of dust deposited on her shelves. At least with Ffos-y-Fran it is cleaner dust.

    PH
     
  12. Gilesy68

    Gilesy68 New Member

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    The smokiness or not of a locomotive is more attributable to firing technique than type of coal. Some coals are, of course, more susceptible to smoke than others but I have seen copious amounts of brown clag coming out of an engine fired with Fros-y-Fran (spelling?). I quite liked the "awful" Daw Mill but do remember desperately trying to get some fire into a Bulleid at Alton without making smoke and having to fire "hand to mouth" all the way to Medstead!

    Smokiness isn't the only factor to be considered. Ash and clinker production is equally as important. The Welsh stuff makes the most horrendous clinker ever, not the "nice" plates that can be lifted out on the shovel but rock hard rubbish that sits between the firebars (I hate it by the way ) This heat-damages the firebars requiring more frequent replacement.

    I like the Scottish that we have at the moment. It is easily controllable and the ash and clinker can be managed on our "get it very hot then cool it down only to do the same again going the other way" railway.

    Ian
     
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  13. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

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    Daw Mill was always appalling from the point of view of being anti -social, it's just that in some hands it was less anti social than others.

    I understand that the factor with Welsh coal is the fusion temperature of the ash, which "in the day" was determined by chemical analysis by the railway company before specifying the individual seam which was to supply them. Not something that can be done now. Long before the era of Ffos-y-Fran (Ffos means "pit" rather like the French "Fosse") I used some Welsh in a small narrow gauge locomotive working very hard. At the end of the day there was no clinker at all and very very little ash. Evidently this sample had ash with a high fusion temperature. When it is that good, no-one would want to use anything else.

    Paul H
     
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  14. ragl

    ragl Well-Known Member

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    There are several small drift mines working and producing coal in the Forest and at least two new ones have recently been driven and are drawing coal. Most of the coal extracted is for domestic use though.

    Cheers,

    Alan
     
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  15. Gilesy68

    Gilesy68 New Member

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    Quite! I hate to think how the person that had the thick smoke with Welsh would have got on with Daw Mill !

    It's interresting to hear about your Welsh narrow gauge experience as I've had exactly the same. The very steep 1 in 36 got the fire very hot indeed with the result that no more firing was needed for the remaining 7 miles. The occasional climb was enough to prevent blowing off and had the most desirable effect of pulling enough primary air through the grate to prevent clinker build up and allowed the fire to thin out towards the end of the trip. Result being no ash or clinker, marvellous!

    Unfortunately on my railway there are no occasional climbs after the all out run up the hill. If you have a thick fire at the top then you will have clinker by the bottom especially if you have closed the dampers to try and cool everything down.
     
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  16. R.W. Grant

    R.W. Grant New Member

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    Hello Paul. I would add in reference to N&W 611 laying down much smoke, it is a pretty common practice when doing a photo runby to put on a smoke show. Add to that the fireman may not be up on the care & feeding of his fire which might be another reason. I personally prefer to see a locomotive running clean exhaust. Too much whistling (rather hear the engine working) and too much induced smoke is a trademark of some of the (few) larger engines running over here. I have seen old films of steam and yes smoke was not exactly uncommon but the old pros who ran those things for a living well knew how to control it. I know back in the 1930's New York Central had a no smoke policy when in urban areas.
     
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  17. marshall5

    marshall5 Active Member

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    I have only participated in one U.S. photo charter and that was a 3 day trip on the White pass and Yukon. We were lucky to have almost unbroken sun but at many of the runpasts the heavy black oil smoke insisted upon by the majority American contingent drifted across the loco putting it in shadow. I've always felt that heavy black smoke was a sign of poor firing and was not typical of 'real' steam loco operation. Accordingly I asked the fireman to turn down the burner a bit for the next runpast and just make a light grey haze which shows proper combustion. Needless to say there were numerous complaints from the ' black smoke brigade' so I gave up and have never been on one since. Unfortunately a lot of gricers, here or there, are too young to remember 'real steam' and think that excessive smoke and unnecessary use of the whistle are somehow 'authentic'.
    Ray.
     
  18. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

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    My experience was with a Quarry Hunslet visiting an F.R. Gala, which was called upon to haul four bogies plus "Palmerston" across the Cob including acceleration up to line speed on the level. With that fuel you could do anything.

    Paul H
     
  19. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    The last thing in the world that you should do with a coal with a low ash fusion temperature is shut the dampers and Ffos y Fran falls into that category, I believe. Using fire irons is another no-no, unless it is time to throw the fire out.
     
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  20. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I believe that latterly Daw Mill was working the Warwickshire thick seam which could reach 20 feet in thickness. Some sections of the seam were very good but others little short of use in anything but a power station. Segregating the good from the bad would be nigh on impossible with modern mechanised mining. Yorkshire's Barnsley Bed, whilst much thinner, had similar good and bad characteristics.
     
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