Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trip Report: National Railway Museum

Frank writes...

I do a lot of traveling on business and recently had an opportunity to cash in about six years' worth of frequent flier miles.  So my wife and I went on a trip to Europe, stopping in England, Scotland and France.  It was not a railfanning trip, of course, but I was still able to work in a few side trips to railway museums.  This post will cover the first: the National Railway Museum in York, England.

First, here's some background for those not well versed in British rail preservation.  (Not very well versed myself, I had to do some research for this bit!)  Railway preservation in the UK is miles ahead of us here in the States; heritage railways and railway museums are numerous and vibrant, typically with larger volunteer corps and more generous funding than in our country.  The Heritage Lottery, a national lottery, provides funding for many large capital projects through a grant program.  The national rail system also hosts dozens of steam-powered excursions every year, running at track speed on the regular rail system.  While most British railway museums have their collections of un-restored equipment sitting out back, same as here, in general the rail preservation movement is quite progressive and popular.

The NRM is the best-known railway museum in Britain and is probably the most widely renowned rail museum in the world.  Mostly housed in the original locomotive shop and goods depot at York, the museum was created in the 1970s to house the "national collection" of historic railway equipment and has always been largely government-funded.  The variety and quality of exhibits at the NRM is outstanding.

The centerpiece of the museum, and the first building one sees upon entry, is the Great Hall.  This is the former locomotive shop, albeit heavily modified for use as a museum.  It's a huge rectangular building with a turntable inside of it (an original feature) and features numerous fascinating displays along with some of the most historically significant equipment in Britain.  At the top of this post is LNER 4-6-2 "Mallard," the fastest steam locomotive in the world.  Next is a sectioned Pacific from the Southern (not THAT Southern!), "Ellerman Lines," which is cut away to show the internal workings of a steam locomotive.  Above is me, the Great Western fan, posing with GWR 4-4-0 "City of Truro" in the place of honor on the turntable.  This was the first steam engine in the world to top 100mph.

Above is an overview of the Great Hall taken from atop a complete footbridge that was placed over one of the tracks as a display.  "Mallard" is in the foreground with "City of Truro" off to the right.  Note that an entire signal bridge has been placed on display inside the building.

There were too many interesting exhibits to show here, but I'll try and hit some highlights that caught my eye.  Above is a 600v LNWR MU car from 1915.  Its control equipment is located inside the body of the car, but I could see that it had a GE air compressor.  Interesting stuff!

And here's Great Western 6000 "King George V."  Note the bell mounted on the front of the locomotive; this bell was presented to the locomotive by the B&O when "King George V" visited the U.S. to attend the Fair of the Iron Horse in 1927.

This is another world traveler, LMS 4-6-2 "Duchess of Hamilton," which visited the States in the late 1930s under the name "Coronation."  This locomotive lost its streamlining a few years before retirement but in 2009 a completely new streamlined casing was installed.  Pretty sharp!  When we were there the cab of this locomotive was open for inspection complete with a rather well-informed docent.

One of the more eye-catching exhibits in the Great Hall is this life-sized (I presume) display section of the English Channel tunnel, complete with mockup of a Eurostar power car nose.  Other modern-ish exhibits include a first-generation Shinkansen bullet train power car from Japan and a narrow-gauge work train used to remove spoil during construction of the Channel tunnel.

At the other end of the scale is this 0-4-0 dating to 1829 named "Agenoria."  Oddly, it's easily the tallest piece of railway equipment on display, with a stack far taller than typical British loading gauge.  Behind it is the dynamometer that measured the record-breaking run of "Mallard" and in the left foreground is a horse riding a gondola.  Moving right along...

Upon leaving the Great Hall I walked through a (relatively) small pop-up type building housing a smattering of unrestored equipment, outside of which was parked the replica "Rocket" locomotive shown above.  I believe that this is used to provide short rides at the museum on certain days.

The next building was Station Hall, originally the York goods shed, which was modified to resemble a passenger terminal complete with high-level platforms throughout.  Each track features a train, headed by a steam locomotive and featuring some gorgeously restored rolling stock including several Royal Carriages among more pedestrian stock.  There are also various displays on the platforms, a couple of cars you can walk into and a couple of "goods trains" (that's "freight trains" to us colonists) on display for good measure.

King Edward's saloon, pictured here, is a particularly ornate and stunning piece.  It even features a bathroom with full-sized bathtub.  It's good to be king!

And then there's the Warehouse, a relatively large building where hundreds - probably thousands - of random rail-related items are on display.  The size and scope of this collection of "jewelry" is breathtaking.  There are rows and rows of industrial shelves and glass display cases with large-scale models, station and passenger car furniture, signage, paperwork, dining car china, and countless other bits and pieces.  One could likely spend a day in this room alone.

My father has always wanted to build something like this to show off the different types of arched stained-glass windows used by the CA&E.  IRM is the only museum to have examples of all three surviving designs: Hicks, Kuhlman and Jewett.

Off of the Warehouse is a small second-floor display area with some really nicely done exhibits on railway operations; above is one about timekeeping.  There are others on signaling, interlocking towers ("signal boxes"), dispatching and rail safety measures.  As the museum is located only yards from the East Coast Main Line, there's also a balcony from where you can watch trains go by.

And finally there's the workshop, a very tidy and well-equipped repair facility complete with viewing mezzanine.  On the center track is a pair of diesel shunters while to the right is an 0-4-0T of some sort.  And in the back right is the "Flying Scotsman," one of the world's most famous locomotives, currently reduced to a boiler and tender while it undergoes heavily overhaul.

So that's the National Railway Museum in a nutshell.  The displays are truly impressive, very professional and informative, while the sheer scope and scale of the museum itself is astounding.  My wife's comment was "this is what IRM should be" and, while that may be a bit of an oversimplification, there's undoubtedly a lot at the NRM to which we can aspire.  Overall, York is definitely a must-see for any railfan visiting the UK.

And this photo I took specifically for Greg Kepka, who is a fan of trains which you perch on rather than ride in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The NRM is a definite stop on my next trip to the UK next year.

I too am a Great Western fan; I.K. Brunel was just world changing! And his station in Bristol is amazing!

Please give us a hint at what you saw in France in coming days. That is one place I have not been to.

Ted Miles
IRM Member