Trains, Carts and No Automobiles

I am decidedly unenthusiastic about locomotives but, moved by the ravings of The BB and a friend, I decided to give the National Rail Museum in York a whirl.

If you are remotely interested in trains, it’s heaven in several warehouses.

As well as over one hundred locomotives, the museum features interactive storytelling suitable for all the family, model trains, clear and detailed displays, toys, a Japanese bullet train (take a seat inside to view a documentary about such trains), a workshop gallery with a mezzanine floor overlooking working mechanics who can be viewed in more detail via CCTV, a playground with a miniature train ride for children, and a lot more. In short, it’s a treasure trove of all things train and there was a steady trickle of people arriving to enjoy it.

Devotees held earnest conversations in and around the locomotives. Children rushed from one to the other, engaged with interactive displays or constructed things in the play area near the shop. There is potentially hours of fun beneath these roofs.

 Surveying the general hall with its amassed trains, from the vantage of the workshop stairs, I was reminded of Monet’s paintings of the train station Gare St. Lazare in France. In 1877, he managed to convince the station master to halt the trains and have them put up steam while he painted. His genius was undimmed by so much carbon dioxide and steam.

Although one mustn’t put the cart before the horse, beneath it is fine. In the early 1700s, it was calculated that the weekly mileage of the horses who pulled loaded railway wagons rose 40% from 174 miles to 240 when they caught a ride and rested on the downhill runs. Once again, necessity became the mother of invention when the horses were co-opted to pull cannons against the French between 1792 and 1815. Engineers began experimenting with steam locomotives.

The massive Chinese engine in the main hall is an interesting contrast to the English ones. The cabins of the latter are like the snug in British pubs – cosy and cute. There is, however, room for a disco in their Chinese counterparts. The height and width of tunnels, bridges and platforms (the loading gauge) is larger than Britain’s so the engine could be bigger, despite the tracks themselves being the same width (gauge).

I noted with interest my instinctive hesitation as I approached the railway line to cross between these long-stationary and immovable trains. Some things are deeply engrained.

And some of those things, like a disinterest in trains, are worth ignoring occasionally.

Entry to the museum is free. It opens at 9.30 or 10.00am, depending on the season and closes at 6pm. Situated on Leeman Rd with nearby parking, it is also easily accessed from the train station and by bus.

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