If you are interested in trains and the history of the railway, then there are plenty of museums in the UK which will whet your appetite. As well as the National Railway Museum in York, there are plenty of smaller museums which provide different and interesting focuses. If you want to find out more information about some of the fantastic museums which are dotted around the county, please read the following information:
Nation Railway Museum, York
The National Railway Museum in York was established in 1975, and has won many different awards over its lifetime, including European Museum of the Year in 2001. The museum showcases over 100 different locomotives and almost 300 carriages and other types of rolling stock, all of which either ran on British railway lines or were built in Britain for use elsewhere. Also on display you will find thousands of pieces of rail memorabilia, including tickets, timetables and promotional rail posters.
One of the highlights of the museum is the 1846 “Old Coppernob” engine locomotive. Entry to the museum is free for all visitors.
Glasgow Museum of Transport
Although it is not solely dedicated to railway transport, this museum is still an interesting place to visit for those who are interested in finding out how trains fit in the Glasgow’s transport heritage. Locomotive manufacture was a major industry in the past, and many of Scotland’s locomotives were constructed in the city. As well as a number of different locally built locomotives, there is also a reconstruction of a pre-1977 Glasgow Subway station. This subway system is the third oldest underground metro system in the world, and has been nicknamed “The Clockwork Orange” because of its distinctive orange colour.
Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, Tywyn
This museum, which is situated on the Talyllyn Railway, is dedicated to all things related to narrow gauge railways across the United Kingdom, from locomotives and wagons to tickets and travel documents. One of the highlights of the museum is the Awdry Study, which is a recreation of a study used by Rev. William Awdry (author of Thomas the Tank Engine), who used to volunteer at the Talyllyn Railway. Visit the website here.
The museum opened in the 1950’s, after a decline in the popularity of narrow gauge railways led to many of these lines closing in the UK.
Ulster Transport Museum
Inside this museum, the Irish Railway Collection shares the history of over 150 years of Irish railway history, encompassing history from both Northern Ireland and Ireland. The main attraction of the museum is a Great Southern Railways Class 800 locomotive, which is amongst the most powerful to have been built and run in the whole of Ireland.
For those interested in other types of transport, there is also a permanent exhibition to the Titanic, which was partially constructed in Belfast shipyards.
Glenfinnan Station Museum
Although this museum is relatively small, it is well worth making the trip up to the station, especially if you choose to travel by train. The main focus of the exhibition is the construction and operation of the Mallaig Extension Line, which ran from Mallaig to Banavie. Because of the difficult terrain, the designers of the line were forced to create a series of architectural masterpieces to allow the line to run. The most famous of these is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which has been featured in a number of films, including four of the Harry Potter films, and is depicted on the Bank of Scotland £10 note. The viaduct itself can be visited from the station. Visit the website here.
Head of Steam, Darlington
The Head of Steam Museum (formerly known as the Darlington Railway Centre and Museum) is dedicated to steam-powered passenger trains, in particular the Stockton & Darlington Railway, which was the world’s first public railway. There is also some additional information about Darlington’s railway industry. The oldest locomotive on display is the Locomotion No. 1, which was built by George Stephenson, and which hauled its first train on the line on 27th September 1825.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway Museum
This railway was planned as a way of opening up Northern trade routes from the seaport of Whitby. It first opened in 1836. Although the line was officially opened for business in 1965, it was reopened as a heritage railway in 1973, giving visitors the chance to experience a number of different historic train rides. As well as standard steam train and heritage diesel rides, the railway also offers special period re-enactment weekends. Click here to visit their website.
Crewe Railway Age
The Crewe Railway Age museum features a series of exhibitions dedicated to exploring the history of the railway in the Crewe area. The museum contains the only surviving APT-P train, which was built in the 1970 and 80s by British Rail. Inside one of the carriages, there is a small exhibition dedicated to the APT project. APT-P trains were rarely used because of bad press gathered during the project testing phase, so this is a unique opportunity to see this model.
Electric Railway Museum, Warwickshire
The museum (formerly known as the Coventry Railway Centre) focuses on the history of electric railways in Britain, although it does include examples of diesel and petrol locomotives. There is a wide range of electric locomotives on site which visitors can view, including some models from the 1950s.
Scottish Industrial Railway Centre, Ayrshire
Rather than focussing on passenger trains, this museum highlights how trains have been used in Scotland for industrial purposes for nearly 200 years. The centre displays steam and diesel locomotives, and is also responsible for a number of restorations. The centre prides itself on allowing visitors to see working models in authentic working settings. Because it is run by volunteers, the centre is not open all of the time, so it is a good idea to visit the website to see their schedule, so that you can avoid disappointment.
There are many other railway and transport museums dotted around the country, including a huge number of heritage railways, where it is possible to ride the rails in style, in now-retired trains.