The steam train museum is an amazing collection of historic locomotives and other railcars. The main building is a roundhouse (think: railroad ring) and in it are beautifully maintained engines, including several from the Civil War period and a few that were in service at the end of the steam-era. There are also modern-looking streamlined engines. You can walk right underneath some of them and see what it’s like to have one of those chuff-chuffing beasts under your feet.
The National Railway Museum has more than 40 locomotives in its collection. These are mostly in running condition and are part of the museum’s regular excursion trains. The museum also has a number of other working historic railway vehicles, such as carriages, wagons, and signal boxes. It has an extensive photo and document archive containing more than 70,000 items. This includes operating manuals for locomotives, technical drawings of various railway vehicles and installations, financial reports through the years, and a collection of posters enticing passengers to ride the rails.
Fewer than 45 full-size steam locomotives built before 1880 exist today. The National Railway Museum has eight of them, including Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1.
At the other end of the scale, there are smaller pieces of equipment on display. These include a steam tender, an engine’s smokebox, and the wheeled cylinder block from a Victorian locomotive. There is also a small sectioned locomotive that demonstrates the internal parts of a steam engine.
You can learn more about the history of the National Railway Museum in its various exhibitions and displays. A particular focus is the history of train travel and its connections to global trade. In fact, it was the expansion of steam power that allowed colonial powers to open up Asia and Africa. This history is also reflected in the exhibition on rail transport during World War II.
There is even a special exhibit on the history of the railways in Africa and the Middle East, which is dedicated to the railway’s role in the slave trade. This is a difficult subject to approach, but the museum does so with honesty and empathy.
The museum has a variety of other interactive activities to help visitors understand the significance of steam railroading in America. For example, there is an opportunity to try the controls of a vintage train, and a chance for kids to ride on a Christmas-themed excursion pulled by the famous Pere Marquette 1225.