NRM - Building the Future from the Past
12 November 2007
On 12th November, an audience of 29 was present as
Andrew paid us a welcome visit. Andrew thanked the Group for "putting
the word about" in the South and in return our Chairman, Ian Harrison,
gave Andrew a photo of Bill Smith and engine 1247, which Andrew promised
to display by the engine at Shildon.
Visitors - The NRM is the most visited museum
outside London, with about 750,000 expected this year. Attendance was
lowest in 1994 at 380,000. Last year's launch of the Yorkshire Wheel
drove an increase to 905,000; Railfest had a similar effect in 2004.
Without these special events, as this year, attendance is steady or
dropping. Many people enthuse about the museum but haven't visited for
many years, so we need to attract them with something new - after all,
there is much competition for their attention. Two approaches are
possible: a series of short term events, and changes to the core
display to offer something new. An example of the latter was the 2006
launch of the Flying Scotsman story. Public investment in UK museums is
large e.g. recently Hull received £75M and Sheffield £40M,
but not in York! Because of its healthy economy, York is the only city
in the North ineligible for grant assistance. Although central
government funds the NRM, they only cover about 70% of running costs, so
attracting other income and is essential.
The Vision - The museum needs to be seen as
"the one stop shop" chosen by people from all walks of life to help them
explore the work of the railway. It is definitely not just a depository
for the relics of the steam age. In this regard, it is reasonably
successful - the press often approach the NRM for background to
stories, the re-opening of St. Pancras stimulating the latest round.
Andrew's aims for the NRM to be seen as the world's leading
transport museum. So competition comes not only from other international
railway museums, e.g. Sacramento, but the "big-boys" museums, such as
the US National Air and Space Museum. This is a big challenge.
Attraction: Even if readers of all railway magazines visited, this
would still be less than half current attendances. Most visitors are
just ordinary members of the public. But feedback suggests that there is
insufficient structure for their visit, just being left to themselves.
Andrew believes the NRM must be better at telling the story via "themed"
museum tours . Examples could be:
Immediate Priorities - The themes will take time
to develop, but there are more immediate things to do. Next year will be
the Chinese Olympics. The NRM has commissioned Michael Rhodes, already
an accomplished railway photographer, to seek out examples of the old
and new Chinese railway community. He has been trained as an oral
history interviewer so he can capture the people and their stories. The
resulting exhibition will run from March to Summer and use the Chinese
Engine in the Great Hall as its focus.
Next year is the 40th anniversary of the end of steam on BR. "1968
and all that", covering 9 days of the Spring Bank Holiday will tell the
story of this major change. It will be similar to, but not as big as,
Railfest, with visiting engines, and stalls (we are invited!). Oliver
Cromwell will be centre-stage.
A railtour from London to Edinburgh on July 5th & 6th will
see, at certain times, all four UK-based Gresley A4s in the NRM yard.
This will happen when the railtour stops at York to change engines.
The York Theatre Royal will have their annual summer season
performing "The Railway Children" at the NRM, from mid-July to end
August - with real trains!
Key Developments: The Search Engine opens for business on 4th
December, providing a drop-in centre, enquiry service, research centre,
and exhibitions. Only the front of house will be complete, the rear
still needs miles of shelves filling. While search engine will not
immediately do anything to improve internet access to the 2-D
collection, it will provide much better physical access for researchers,
with more material digitized in coming years. The Friends may provide
volunteer research assistants to help with enquiries. This chargeable
service will also have the benefit of collating information which can be
retained by the Museum, as well as generating funds for the Friends.
NRM+ aims to transform the Great Hall, the format of which hasn't
changed much since opening. Andrew recognises the need to balance
retaining the "wow" factor provided by the big exhibits, but fewer
vehicles will be presented around themed topics - see above. To get the
Hall ready will require £40M for a new single entrance (near the
wheel), orientation area, restaurant, and new displays. A project brief
is targetted for March 2008.
NRM occupies 28 of 100 acres of potential development area, the
so-called "York Central". With its booming local economy, York needs
this development opportunity. Recently, Network Rail, the land owner,
has expressed interest in moving forward, but they still need to get the
Regional Development Agency to invest in the infrastructure (bridges)
to provide the necessary good site access.
Locomotion is currently has 140,000 visitors pa. [c.f. 60,000
target] but there is a large list of small improvements which are
needed, such as the renovation of the coal drops and stables. A new
centre targetted at schools in the north east, is also being considered.
This will cost £3M capital, but local councils will need to
cover running costs.
Locomotive Rebuilds. Oliver Cromwell had less than 20 years service
but has still taken a lot of time and cash to restore to running.
Flying Scotsman had a cracked right hand cylinder, and a new cylinder is
ready, but still has to be re-aligned and fix in place. Lord Nelson
was inspected by insurance engineers and the HSE, and is in better
condition than expected. The problems may be limited to the firebox
crown, and tests are in hand to see if a relatively simple repair is
possible. Other engines on loan include City of Truro, Beattie Well
tank, and Super D. D200 is just back at York for repair but will then go
out on loan. Green Arrow is about to have its inspection with the aim
of a final 6 month permit. It is unlikely to run again for a long time
as the NRM can't afford to have six big engines in operation. The T9 is
at the Bluebell but needs to be relocated, and the 4F is to leave
Butterley due to lack of progress on its restoration.
Commercial Models: The Museum is taking some
joint risks with Backmann to commission OO models. The prototype Deltic
will, hopefully, be the first of a series of iconic National Collection
models. So far 1000 have been sold with first batch due for delivery in
So a fascinating and challenging future lies ahead for the NRM and we wish Andrew every success.