Mine railway
A mine railway is a railway constructed to carry materials and workers in and out of a mine
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...

. Materials transported typically include ore
An ore is a type of rock that contains minerals with important elements including metals. The ores are extracted through mining; these are then refined to extract the valuable element....

, coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 and spoil
Spoil or spoils:*Plunder taken from an enemy or victim.*Material removed during:**excavation**mining**dredging*An Australian rules football tactic, see One percenter #Spoil...

. Today most mine railways are electrically powered; in former times pit ponies, such as Shetland ponies, were used to haul the trains. In very cramped conditions, children were also used.


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
Narrow gauge
A narrow gauge railway is a railway that has a track gauge narrower than the of standard gauge railways. Most existing narrow gauge railways have gauges of between and .- Overview :...

 track that is normally employed. This reduces the size and scale of the trucks used, called a Dram, and hence increases access, meaning that they can be taken closer to the mining face.

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.

Pit ponies

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
Child labor
Child labour refers to the employment of children at regular and sustained labour. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations and is illegal in many countries...

 or female labour, as distances from pit head to coal face became greater. The first known recorded use in Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 was in the County Durham
County Durham
County Durham is a ceremonial county and unitary district in north east England. The county town is Durham. The largest settlement in the ceremonial county is the town of Darlington...

 coalfield in 1750; however, the use of ponies never made it to the mines of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. 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
North East England
North East England is one of the nine official regions of England. It covers Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and Teesside . The only cities in the region are Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sunderland...

 as "putting") which were more difficult to mechanise. As of 1984, 55 ponies were still at use with the National Coal Board
National Coal Board
The National Coal Board was the statutory corporation created to run the nationalised coal mining industry in the United Kingdom. Set up under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, it took over the mines on "vesting day", 1 January 1947...

 in Britain, chiefly at the modern pit in Ellington, Northumberland
Ellington, Northumberland
Ellington is a small village on the coast of Northumberland, England. Ellington is four miles from Ashington, six miles from Morpeth and twenty miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne....


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.

Probably the last colliery horse to work underground in a British coal mine, Robbie, was retired from Pant y Gasseg, near Pontypool
Pontypool is a town of approximately 36,000 people in the county borough of Torfaen, within the historic boundaries of Monmouthshire in South Wales....

, in May 1999.

Combustion-engined operation

19th and early 20th century mine railway locomotives were operated with petrol benzene
Benzene is an organic chemical compound. It is composed of 6 carbon atoms in a ring, with 1 hydrogen atom attached to each carbon atom, with the molecular formula C6H6....

 and alcohol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

 / 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 operations

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.

Catenary operations

The electric motor
Electric motor
An electric motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.Most electric motors operate through the interaction of magnetic fields and current-carrying conductors to generate force...

 technology used pre-1900 to DC
Direct current
Direct current is the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Direct current is produced by such sources as batteries, thermocouples, solar cells, and commutator-type electric machines of the dynamo type. Direct current may flow in a conductor such as a wire, but can also flow through...

 with a few hundred volts and a direct supply of power to the motor from the catenary enabled the use of efficient, small and sturdy tractors of simple construction. 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
Siemens & Halske
Siemens & Halske AG was a German electrical engineering company that later became part of Siemens AG.It was founded on 12 October 1847 as Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske by Ernst Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske...

 for stone 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
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

, Saarland
Saarland is one of the sixteen states of Germany. The capital is Saarbrücken. It has an area of 2570 km² and 1,045,000 inhabitants. In both area and population, it is the smallest state in Germany other than the city-states...

Lorraine (région)
Lorraine is one of the 27 régions of France. The administrative region has two cities of equal importance, Metz and Nancy. Metz is considered to be the official capital since that is where the regional parliament is situated...

, Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

 and Belgian Wallonia. There were large scale deliveries of electric locomotives for these railways from AEG
Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft was a German producer of electrical equipment founded in 1883 by Emil Rathenau....

, Siemens & Halske
Siemens & Halske
Siemens & Halske AG was a German electrical engineering company that later became part of Siemens AG.It was founded on 12 October 1847 as Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske by Ernst Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske...

, Siemens-Schuckert
Siemens-Schuckert was a German electrical engineering company headquartered in Berlin, Erlangen and Nuremberg that was incorporated into the Siemens AG in 1966....

 Works (SSW) and the Union Electricitäts-Gesellschaft (UEG) in these countries.

Explosion-proof mining locomotives from Schalker Eisenhütte are used in all the mines owned by Ruhrkohle (today Deutsche Steinkohle).

Compressed-air operation

Compressed-air locomotives were powered by compressed air
Compressed air
Compressed air is air which is kept under a certain pressure, usually greater than that of the atmosphere. In Europe, 10 percent of all electricity used by industry is used to produce compressed air, amounting to 80 terawatt hours consumption per year....

 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.

In operation

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
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

, a major mining area in central Europe, was closed in 1999 at the Zwenkau Mine
Zwenkau is a city in the district of Leipzig, in the Free State of Saxony, Germany. Situated between the rivers Weiße Elster and Pleiße it unfolds to Leipzig lowlands and includes parts of the conservation area Elsteraue and Central Germany's Street of Lignite.- Geography :The city lies about...

 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
Lusatia is a historical region in Central Europe. It stretches from the Bóbr and Kwisa rivers in the east to the Elbe valley in the west, today located within the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg as well as in the Lower Silesian and Lubusz voivodeships of western Poland...

 was closed.

Mine railways as 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
Meuselwitz is a town in the Altenburger Land district, in Thuringia, Germany. It is situated 12 km northwest of Altenburg and 11 km east of Zeitz.-History:...

 via Haselbach
Haselbach, Thuringia
Haselbach is a municipality in the district Altenburger Land, in Thuringia, Germany....

 to Regis-Breitingen
Regis-Breitingen is a town in the Leipzig district, in the Free State of Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the river Pleiße, 6 km southwest of Borna....


External links

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