Written by Sophie Scott

Lifestyle

Why I ❤️ the National Railway Museum

Last week, the first national museum outside of London celebrated its 40th anniversary. Sophie Scott tells us why she’s a huge fan.

Steam powered fire engine, and an interested woman.

Steam-powered fire engine, and an interested woman.

I would never advise anyone to have children just so you get to go to interesting places, but it is a brilliant side benefit.

When I was a kid, my dad routinely used to throw us into the car and drive us to either Blackpool or the Railway Museum at York. When my son turned three I found myself recapitulating this and falling in love with the National Railway Museum.

Here’s 10 reasons why:

1. There’s a train turntable. On which they turn trains around at regular times.

2. Unusual trains (e.g. narrow gauge rails). When steam trains were the new exciting technology, small trains were used for all kinds of small-grade moving of stuff, a bit like fork lift trucks nowadays. So cute! So weird! There is also a steam fire engine. Taking a vehicle driven by fire and boiling water to a fire seems very meta. It’s probably what the fire engines look like in Hoxton.

“My partner said it was a good job I wasn’t a trainspotter, otherwise I might find myself making an unnecessary fuss about a train. As if that were possible!”

3. Foreign trains, like the Japanese bullet train. When I went to Japan and was taken on the bullet train, I was fully prepared thanks to some hard practice sitting on the one at the NRM and imagining I could see Mount Fuji.

4. Old trains. These go from a replica of the Rocket (original in the Science Museum in London) to full-on 1970s British Rail rolling stock, all Prussian blue and nice fonts.

5. Trains which are intermediate between models and full size but which you can ride around on. You can’t drive these little trains: my son had a very good attempt to do this and they were very clear that he absolutely could not and neither can you, madam; however you do get to tool around in the undergrowth on a little train, so there’s that.

No. 60019 ‘Bittern’ which is still certificated to run on mainline railways, ladies!

No. 60019 Bittern which is still certificated to run on mainline railways, ladies!

6. The Royal Train. The beauty of the royal trains is so extreme, it makes me distressed that no one else gets to sit in a living room, with arm chairs, while heading to their destination.

7. Old transportation adverts. Go for these alone: there was a whole display of 1970s adverts for hovercraft travel which were all glamorous and showed exactly no one vomiting everywhere. I also enjoyed a display about ferry travel in the 1950s in which everyone was very well turned out and the ferry featured cocktails and fine dining and no one trying to sleep on the floor while 10,000 teenagers on a school exchange trip jump over their head.

8. Riding on trains. The tracks outside also sometimes run real large steam trains, including the replica of the Rocket, which spits out huge lumps of dirty steam and sparks that set fire to your hair. BRACING.

9. The Flying Scotsman. This is the big guns of the NRM, which fully restored the train; it will be returning to tracks in 2016. Meh. I prefer…

10. The Mallard. The Mallard was the fastest steam engine, setting a speed record of 125.88mph on a slight downhill grade of the East coast line, of Stoke Bank, south of Grantham in 1938. This was a glorious last hurrah for steam, before diesel and electricity started to dominate transport.

No. 4468 Mallard at the National Railway Museum in York.

No. 4468 Mallard at the National Railway Museum in York.

The Mallard is a glory of modernist design – aerodynamic and glossy and with extensive gleaming pipework. It was love at first sight. The Mallard was so beautiful it completely changed my life. When I saw one of the other models (No. 60019 Bittern) actually running and taking passengers out of Victoria I could not have been more excited if the train were being driven by Prince. I took photos, posted them on Twitter and Facebook and rang my partner to tell him. He said it was a good job I wasn’t a trainspotter, otherwise I might find myself making an unnecessary fuss about a train. As if that were possible!

NB: If Prince were to drive a train, I think it would be an A4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive like the Mallard. I think he would appreciate its double chimney and double Kylchap blastpipe design, with the improved draughting and better exhaust flow at speed.

So go, go to the National Railway Museum at York. It enjoys very easy access from York Station and is free, and it’s a wonderful testament to the history of human technology and human aspirations, as well as trains and transport.

@sophiescott

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Written by Sophie Scott

I am a cognitive neuroscientist at UCL, and I study brains, voices, speaking and laughing. In my spare time I try to turn theory into practice with science based stand up comedy. @sophiescott