A mine railway (or mine railroad, U.S.) is a railway constructed to carry materials and workers in and out of a mine. Materials transported typically include ore, coal and overburden (also called variously spoils, waste, slack, culm, and tilings; all meaning waste rock). It is little remembered, but the mix of heavy and bulky materials which had to be hauled into and out of mines gave rise to the first several generations of railways, at first made of wood rails, but eventually adding protective iron, steam locomotion by fixed engines and the earliest commercial steam locomotives, all in and around the works around mines.
Coal, iron, rail symbiosis
A tendency to concentrate employees started when Benjamin Huntsman, looking for higher quality clock springs, found in 1740 that he could produce high quality steel in unprecedented quantities (crucible steel to replace blister steel) in using ceramic crucibles in the same fuel shortage/glass industry inspired reverbatory furnaces that were spurring the coal mining, coking, cast iron cannon foundries, and the much in demand gateway or stimulus products of the glass making industries. These technologies, for several decades, had already begun gradually quickening industrial growth and causing early concentrations of workers so that there were occasional early small factories that came into being.
This trend concentrating effort into bigger central located but larger enterprises turned into a trend spurred by Henry Cort's iron processing patent of 1784 leading in short order to foundries collocating near coal mines and accelerating the practice of supplanting the nations cottage industries. With that concentration of employees and separation from dwellings, horsedrawn trams became commonly available as a commuter resource for the daily commute to work. Mine railroads were used from 1804 around Coalbrookdale in such industrial concentrations of mines and iron works, all demanding traction-drawing of bulky or heavy loads. These gave rise to extensive early wooden rail ways and initial animal powered trains of vehicles, then successively in just two decades protective iron strips nailed to protect the rails, steam drawn trains (1804) cast iron rails. Generations, later George Stephenson, inventor of the world famous Rocket and a board member of a mine convinced his board to use steam for traction, and further to petition Parliament to license a public passenger railway, founding the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Soon after the intense public publicity, in part generated by the contest to find the best locomotive won by Stephenson's Rocket, railways underwent explosive growth world wide, and the industrial revolution gradually went global.
Company towns and child labour
Today, most mine railways are electrically powered; in former times pit ponies, such as Shetland ponies, donkeys, and/or mules were used to haul the early mine trains. In the very cramped conditions of hand-hewn mining tunnels, children were also oft-used, and the animals were led and tended by boys (called 'mule boys' in the USA, aged 10–12). Until the movement against child labour pushed passage of laws requiring universal mandatory education of children to the sixth grade in the United States, in the Appalachian anthracite coal fields in Eastern Pennsylvania, these urchins were used and known as mule-boys into the 1920s, a position one step up the ladder towards the better pay as an apprentice 'miner' (age 12+) from 'breaker boys', while the earnings of each stage allowed each group to return considerably more to their hard-scrabble families.
Since many US mines were founded in remote areas and the joint stock companies imported workers from Europe who had to work off their passage in a company town purpose-built to staff the mine — a typical miner's family was constantly in debt to the company for board, rent, groceries, and tools most of their lives, so there was considerable social pressure from family and community for children to earn wages as soon as someone would pay them. Practices in Europe were little different, the mining interests owned the town lands, the buildings, the commercial enterprises established to support the workers from beer gardens, company stores to barbers, dentists, theaters and even doctors offices. The mining companies even ran the real estate offices, and happily sold lands to all comers so individuals gradually invested in such busy communities, including rights of way to rail road companies.
Early rail roads
- Wood to cast iron
These early mine railroads used wooden rails, which in the early industrial revolution about Coalbrookdale, were soon capped with iron strapping, those were replaced by wrought iron, then with the first steam traction engines, cast iron rails, and eventually steel rails as each was in succession found to last much longer than the previous cheaper rail type. By the time of the first steam locomotive drawn trains, most rails laid were of wrought iron which was outlasting cast iron rails by 8:1. About three decades later, after Andrew Carnegie had made steel competitively cheap, steel rails were supplanting iron for the same longevity reasons.
There is usually no direct connection from a mine railway to the mine's industrial siding or the public railway network, because of the narrow gauge track that is normally employed. In the United States, the standard gauge for mine haulage is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm), (Cape gauge), although gauges from 18 in (457 mm) to 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) are used. The tram (or dram) cars used for mine haulage are generally called tubs. The term mine car is commonly used in the United States
Original mine railways used wax-impregnated wooden rails attached to wooden sleepers, on which drams were dragged by men, children or animals. This was later replaced by L-shaped iron rails, which were attached to the mine floor, meaning that no sleepers were required and hence leaving easy access for the feet of children or animals to propel more drams.
The Romans were the first to realise the benefits of using animals in their industrial workings, using specially bred pit ponies to power supplementary work such as mine pumps.
Ponies began to be used underground, often replacing child or female labour, as distances from pit head to coal face became greater. The first known recorded use in Britain was in the County Durham coalfield in 1750; however, the use of ponies never made it to the mines of the United States. At the peak in 1913, there were 70,000 ponies underground in Britain. In later years, mechanical haulage was quickly introduced on the main underground roads replacing the pony hauls and ponies tended to be confined to the shorter runs from coal face to main road (known in North East England as "putting") which were more difficult to mechanise. As of 1984, 55 ponies were still at use with the National Coal Board in Britain, chiefly at the modern pit in Ellington, Northumberland.
Dandy wagons were often attached to trains of full drams, to contain a horse or pony. Mining and later railway engineers designed their tramways so that full (heavy) trains would use gravity down the slope, while horses would be used to pull the empty drams back to the workigs. The Dandy wagon allowed for easy transportation of the required horse each time.
19th and early 20th century mine railway locomotives were operated with petrol benzene and alcohol / benzene mixtures. Although such engines were probably preferred in metal mines, firedamp safety has been achieved by special types of motors and special exhaust system with cooling water injection, and mesh, chipboard or disc protection over the exhaust openings. These filters contribute greatly to reducing noxious fumes.
For safety (flammability of the fuel) modern mine railway locomotives are only operated using diesel fuel.
Battery powered locomotives and systems solved many of the potential explosive problems that combustion engines provided, and also emitted fewer gases within mines. However, batteries are heavy items which require long periods of charge to produce relatively short periods of full-power operation, resulting in either restricted operations or the need for the doubling-up of equipment purchasing. Hence while popular, battery systems were often practically restricted to mines where systems were short, and moving relatively low-density ore which could explode easily.
The electric motor technology used pre-1900 to DC with a few hundred volts and a direct supply of power to the motor from the overhead wire enabled the use of efficient, small and sturdy tractors of simple construction. Initially, there was no voltage standard, but by 1914, 250 volts was the standard voltage for underground work in the United States. This relatively low voltage was adopted for safety's sake. This met the needs of mine railways very well, especially for underground working and so the use of electrically powered trains soon became widespread on mine railways.
The first electric mine railway in the world was developed by Siemens & Halske for bituminous coal mining in Saxon Zauckerode near Dresden (now Freital) and was being worked as early as 1882 on the 5th main cross-passage of the Oppel Shaft run by the Royal Saxon Coal Works.
In 1894, the mine railway of the Aachen smelting company, Rothe Erde, was electrically driven, as were subsequently numerous other mine railways in the Rhineland, Saarland Lorraine, Luxembourg and Belgian Wallonia. There were large scale deliveries of electric locomotives for these railways from AEG, Siemens & Halske, Siemens-Schuckert Works (SSW) and the Union Electricitäts-Gesellschaft (UEG) in these countries.
Compressed-air locomotives were powered by compressed air that were carried on the locomotive in compressed-air containers. This method of propulsion had the advantage of being safe but the disadvantage of high operating costs.
Until 1995 the largest single, narrow gauge, above-ground, mine and coal railway network in Europe was in the Leipzig-Altenburg lignite field in Germany. It had 726 kilometres of 900 mm track - the largest 900 mm network in existence. Of this, about 215 kilometres was removable track inside the actual pits and 511 kilometres was fixed track for the transportation of coal to the main rail network.
The last 900 mm gauge mine railway in the German state of Saxony, a major mining area in central Europe, was closed in 1999 at the Zwenkau Mine in Leipzig. Once a very extensive railway network, towards the end it only had 70 kilometres of movable 900 mm track and 90 kilometres of 900 mm fixed railway track within the Zwenkau open cast mine site itself, as well as a 20-kilometre, standard gauge, link railway for the coal trains to the power stations (1995–1999). The closure of this mine marked the end of the history of 900 mm mine railways in the lignite mines of Saxony. In December 1999, the last 900 mm railway in the Central German coal mining field in Lusatia was closed.
Museum and heritage railways
A remnant of the coal railways in the Leipzig-Altenburg Lignite Field may be visited and operated as a museum railway. Regular museum trains also run on the line from Meuselwitz via Haselbach to Regis-Breitingen.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mining railways.|
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