Part of the British Science Museum Group, the National Railway Museum educates visitors throughout the world on the life-changing innovation that is the railway. Included at the museum are various historical locomotives and rolling stock that roamed the British railways for many years, and are vital assets that shaped the modern world.
Located walking distance from the York train station, along the famous East Coast Main Line (ECML),the highly acclaimed museum attracts hundreds of thousands annually, and is a must for any railway enthusiast. At the museum, over 100 locomotives are on display, telling the rich tale of Britain’s railway history and engineering accomplishments.
The museum is located on the site of the former British Rail York North Locomotive Depot, which has been collecting historical locomotives and rolling stock since 1975, when it attained collections from Clapham and Queen Street. Since then, many historical locomotives and rolling stock have been added to the expanding museum.
The museum includes many locations to view its displays including its newest addition, called “Locomotion”, which is located in Shildon, County Durham, which opened its doors to the public in 2004. Attracting over 200,000 visitors annually, this part of the museum is located on the shop site of famous steam locomotive engineer, Timothy Hackworth, who worked with the likes of George Stephenson, and conducted engineering tests on one of the first steam locomotives built by Richard Trevithick.
The National Railway Museum is home to 280 pieces of locomotives and rolling stock, both at the museum in York, Locomotion, and some operational at many heritage railways. Impressively, some of the displays available for viewing date as far back as 1815, with much of the collection stretching well into the 1970s. This impressive collection includes the likes of Sir Nigel Gresley’s “Mallard” and “Flying Scotsman”, and the many early creations of George Stephenson. Displays that were used in other parts of the world, such as the Chinese Railways KF No.607, is included in the museum because it was built in Britain and exported.
Because the museum serves as a center for railway education, it provides visitors with a “search engine”, which acts as a library for various railway archives such as locomotive and rolling stock blueprints, over 20,000 books and 800 journals. This archive is commonly used by model railway companies to build models of the prototypes, as well as various heritage railways who obtain the literature for reference during a restoration project.
The desire for a nation wide railway museum has been prominent since the 19th century. During the 1860s, some of the earliest British locomotives including “Puffing Billy” and Stephenson’s “Rocket”, were displayed in the newly established Science Museum in the mid 19th century.
Throughout history, many of the “big 4” railway companies began preserving numerous types of historic locomotives, usually at stations or maintenance depots. For example, the London Midland Scottish (LMS) had various collections of locomotives and various artifacts at its southern terminus of Euston. Additionally, Southern Railway had preserved various types of carriages and locomotives, however, many of these did not make it to the museum today.
Upon the advent of government run British Rail, there was much opportunity for consolidation of the various railway artifacts into one location. The early site of the museum was Clapham in London, which was housed in a former bus depot. A small collection of locomotives were kept at the site,with a large number being stored at multiple locations throughout the national system.
Although this early museum was successful, in the sixties, the “Beeching Axe” had began, which consolidated or eliminated many railway lines and associated organizations. This advocated for the elimination of the railway museum, which led multiple historians by the names of Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt and Jack Simmons, to found a new museum for the historic artifacts.
After much negotiation between the historians and British Rail, a new location was agreed upon within the guidelines of the Transport Act of 1968, also, they were given the Science Museum affiliation. The location for the new museum was to be the roundhouse at York North. Much of the collection from the original museum was moved to the new location, as well as in Darlington.
After a few years of shuffling equipment to the museum, and selecting various museum management, the museum was officially opened in 1975, when Prince Philip visited the museum for the opening day. Within the first year of operation, over 1 million visitors turned out to the museum. This great success helped the museum grow and acquire more historical railway equipment.
The successes of the museum did not come without its challenges. In 1990, the structural integrity of the roof structure of the building was questioned, as it was not deemed safe to keep the museum operating. It was decided that the entire roof on the structure was to be replaced. While the roof construction was ongoing, the entire facility was renovated receiving new turntables and other upgraded facilities.
While these upgrades were being completed, in order to continue museum operations, many of the museum displays were moved across the street near the museum store, which was the former York goods depot. Additionally, many displays were temporarily moved to Swindon Works, of the Great Western Railway, which had closed a few years prior in 1986.
After the renovation, the museum was yet again open to the public in April 1992. The expansion of the museum included the inclusion of a footbridge and various railway signaling architecture. The museum also began to partner with local colleges and universities to begin apprentice programs for individuals interested in a career with the railway.
The National Railway Museum is home to many historical locomotives and rolling stock that has shaped the railway in Great Britain and the world. Many locomotives in the collection are highly acclaimed and record smashing machines that are well-known worldwide.
Considered the oldest surviving steam locomotive in the world, the “Puffing Billy” was built in 1813 by William Hedley, a highly acclaimed industrial engineer, who developed and innovated numerous types of early railway locomotives and rolling stock.
The locomotive was developed to replace the horses, that currently hauled rail bound wagons on the tramway, and saw many years of service until retirement in 1862, when it was donated to the science museum. The locomotive was used as a benchmark for future traction by famed locomotive builder George Stephenson.
George Stephenson’s “Rocket”
Legendary locomotive builder George Stephenson, who is considered by many as “Father of the Railways”, built his “Rocket” in 1829. The locomotive was among the most advanced traction of its time, and served as a technological benchmark for many future locomotive for over one-hundred years.
Stephenson built the Rocket for use on the Rainhill trials, which were to prove that locomotives were the prime choice of traction for the newly constructed Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Stephenson wanted to build a locomotive that was lightweight and quick. The locomotive proved successful in the trials, as the locomotive reached a top speed of 30 mph, and won the competition. This resulted in Stephenson receiving the contract to construct locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
GWR 4000 Class 4003 “Lode Star”
Built at Swindon Works in 1907, this 4-6-0 locomotive is the only surviving locomotive of the “Saint” class of locomotives, and served the Great Western Railway and continued to serve after the railways became government run, and was retired in 1951. British Rail acknowledged the locomotive’s service, and it was preserved in Swindon until it was given to the National Railway Museum in 1992.
This class of locomotive was relegated to hauling express trains. Built at Swindon Works, the class was originally slated to be a 4-4-2 Atlantic type locomotive, and many of the earlier models were 4-4-2, with the option to easily convert to 4-6-0. As a blueprint for building the class, the GWR borrowed three French 4-4-2 locomotives “102 La France” “103 President” and “104 Alliance”. The 4-6-0 type was preferred, as the GWR incorporated a few design elements from the French locomotives such as the Belpaire firebox, and the taper boiler. No.4003 is a member of the “Star” series of Saint class locomotives.
4472 “Flying Scotsman”
Designed by famed locomotive designer Nigel Gresley, Flying Scotsman is a Class A3 4-6-2 “Pacific”type locomotive built at Doncaster Works for the London & Northeastern Railway (LNER).
Built in 1923, “Flying Scotsman” served many years on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), hauling passengers from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh. The train would be able to reach Edinburgh from London in eight hours because the locomotive encompassed some of the most advanced technology of the time, which included the ability to switch drivers and attain water without stopping.
The locomotive is world renowned, as it has broken the world speed record for a steam locomotive in 1934, traveling at a speed of 100 mph. The locomotive was retired in 1963, however, its life was far from over. Throughout the years after its retirement, it was owned by Alan Pegler, William McAlpine, Tony Marchington, and presently, the National Railway Museum.
Post retirement, the locomotive began touring the world, displaying Sir Nigel Gresley’s finest work. The locomotive conducted two tours in the United States and Canada in the late sixties and early seventies before being brought back to Britain by William McAlpine.
During its world tour, the locomotive continued to smash records, as when it visited Australia in the late eighties, it broke the record for the longest running non-stop service by a steam locomotive of 422 miles.
LNER Class A4 Mallard
A 1938 graduate of Doncaster Works, and designed by Gresley, this particular 4-6-2 A4 “Pacific” type locomotive is known for breaking the record for steam traction on the East Coast Mainline. On 3 July 1938, the Mallard hit 126 mph near Grantham, milepost 90 1/4. During the record breaking run, the locomotive was on a trial run testing a new braking system, the QSA brake.
The streamlined design of the locomotive is attributed to its record breaking speed, as the locomotive is completely streamlined. The Mallard in particular was fitted with a double chimney and Kylchap blastpipe, which improved the allocation of the locomotive’s exhaust.
The locomotive was retired by British Rail in 1963, and is known located in the Great Hall of the National Railway Museum.
LMS Princess Coronation Class 6229 “Duchess of Hamilton”
Built at Crewe in 1938, 6229 emerged from the shops in a beautiful streamlined red livery with gold stripes. This particular locomotive was operated on the railway’s premier passenger train, the “Coronation Scot” on the London Midland Scottish (LMS) mainline between London and Glasgow.
The locomotive was sent to the World Fair in New York in 1939, and re-numbered 6220, however, with the outbreak of World War II, it was promptly returned, and painted in wartime black, renumbered 6229, and had its streamlined casing removed. After the war under British Rail, the locomotive continued to serve until the early sixties, where it was only semi-streamlined.
After purchasing the locomotive in 1976, it was restored to operating condition until 1996, when its boiler ticket expired after seven years. The locomotive was then put on display until 2005, when it was decided to return the locomotive to its original streamlined appearance. Today, the locomotive is on static display inside the museum, however, there are plans to reignite the fires and restore it to operational condition.
SR Battle of Britain class 21C151 “Winston Churchill”
Built by the Southern Railway in 1946, this Battle of Britain Class 4-6-2 “Pacific” type locomotive is named after former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Built at Brighton Works, the locomotive was used on the West of England Mainline between London and Exeter. It wandered around much of the ex-Southern Railway lines for most of its career once turned over to British Rail. The locomotive was retired in 1965, just months after hauling Winston Churchill’s funeral train from Waterloo to Handborugh, which attracted many onlookers during its journey.
Today, the locomotive is on static display inside the museum as part of the UK national collection. The locomotive took a brief stay at the Mid-Hants Railway for fresh paint, and was returned to the museum soon after.
BR Standard Class 7 70013, “Oliver Cromwell”
Built in 1951 by Crewe Works, this locomotive was promptly assigned to Norwich depot where it served on the Eastern Region. This particular locomotive worked the London to Norwich express trains. This locomotive type was deemed useful in the East Anglia region of the system, and provided reliable and fast express train service in the region.
During its tenure on British Railways, it was also transferred to the March Motive Power Depot, and later, began serving the London Midland Region at Carlisle Kingmoor Depot. While stationed in the London Midland region, it was mostly assigned to freight workings, as well as occasional appearances on passenger routes.
With the diesel locomotive quickly becoming the preferred choice of motive power, and beginning to extinguish the fires of steam, the locomotive was finally retired in 1968, and became part of the museum in the eighties. The locomotive completed many chartered trips under its own steam, however, ran its very last trip on March 3, 2018, a short while prior to the expiration of its boiler certificate. It ran briefly on the Great Central Railway (GCR), before being shopped for rebuild in December 2018.
0 Series Shinkansen
The Japanese Shinkansen train sets were utilized on the Tokaido Shinkansen high speed line for over forty years. Manufactured by Hitachi and Nippon Sharyo these electric multiple units were state-of-the-art for their time, as they were one of the first train sets in Japan that were designed for standard gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 in) operation.
These train sets reached speeds of 130 mph (210 km/h), and were considered one of the fastest trains in the world upon its construction in the early sixties, to mid eighties. Assembled in 12-car sets, these trains included first class, coach, and buffet accommodations. Many of the original 12-car train sets were extended to 16-car sets for the Hikari services.
Retired in 2008, the National Railway Museum received their 0 Series Shinkansen in 2001, after it was withdrawn from service in 2000. The example at the museum was built in 1976, and had 24 years of service under its belt.
British Rail Class 55 Deltic Prototype
Built by English Electric in 1955, the Class 55 was designed for high speed services on the East Coast Mainline. Coined the “Deltic” due to its dual Napier Deltic prime movers, the high horsepower and low axle load was favored for the high speed express services, which led British Rail to order 22 examples of the type. With a top speed of 100 mph, the Deltic operated commonly on the express routes between London, Leeds, and Edinburgh. The Deltic could be seen leading the famed “Flying Scotsman” in five hours 30 minutes, drastically reducing the time of the journey traveled by the previous motive power, the Gresley A3 and A4 “Pacific” steam locomotives.
These workhorses were retired by British Rail in 1981, and six were preserved. The prototype locomotive lived a short life as it was withdrawn in 1961 after a substantial prime mover failure, and was donated to the Science Museum, and later given to the National Railway Museum in 1993.
British Rail Advanced Passenger Train -Experimental (APT-E)
Built at Derby in 1970, the APT-E was the first and only British Rail vehicle to be powered by gas turbine engines, which were provided by Leyland.
The drivers union (ASLEF) brought to light concerns over the train set due to a single driver seat in the cab. This brought about concerns of the railway wanting to switch to one man crews, which resulted in the train set not being used in mainline testing for over a year. Upon its return to the mainline, it set a new speed record of 152.3 mph whilst testing in the western region. The train was meant for test use only, and was never used on a revenue train.
Retired in 1976, it was immediately donated to the National Railway Museum for preservation.
If you would like to visit the museum, the address, website and hours are listed below:
Address: Leeman Road, York YO264XJ