Friends of the National Railway Museum
South of England Group


Lecture Reports

la Previous Article uparrow Return to Index Next Article la
National Railway Museum: Building the Future from the Past - Andrew Scott,
  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:

•Shrinking our world

•Trains cars and planes - how railways deal with competition

•Tomorrow's mobility

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 mid December.
So a fascinating and challenging future lies ahead for the NRM and we wish Andrew every success.