A visit to the steam train museum is a chance to go back in time and feel the power of locomotives that once thundered along the nation’s railway tracks. You’ll be able to see the steam rising from their fireboxes, smell the burning coal and oil, hear their whistles and the chuff-chuff of their one-ton drive rods turning steel wheels on their traction.
Visiting a national steam train museum is also an opportunity to learn about the history of railroads, their builders and the people who worked on them. You’ll be able to read about the engineering geniuses who were behind this amazing technology, such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Whether you’re a rail fan or just interested in how the world changed after the introduction of the first steam engines, there are some fantastic museums in the UK that will appeal to all interests.
The National Railway Museum (NRM) at York houses a vast collection of historic railway vehicles, ranging from wagonway carriages to trains used by the Royal Family. There are around 280 rail vehicles in the National Collection, and around 100 are at any given time displayed at York. The remainder of the collection is kept at Locomotion at Shildon and at other railway museums and heritage railways around the country.
At the NRM, you’ll be able to climb aboard the iconic Mallard, which set a new world record for fastest steam locomotive in 1938. You can also take a ride on the 1960s Shinkansen bullet train, a pioneer of high-speed rail travel. The museum’s locomotive collection demonstrates the progression of steam technology from its early beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century to its heyday and apex in the 1940s.
If you’re a fan of the large steam locomotives, there are several here, including an N&W Big Boy and an AT&SF 2-8-8-2. There’s even the largest surviving dual-service steam locomotive, a New York Central 4-8-2 L-3a Mohawk, No. 3001.
You can also explore the workings of a real steam crane and a steam traction engine, and see how an old blacksmith works his magic. There are even model train displays and a play area for kids to keep them entertained. On certain days, you can see the Hesston Sawmill in operation, and learn about how steam-powered trams used to transport timber and people.
There’s no admission charge for the main museum, but a donation is suggested. You’ll find a gift shop, cafe and restaurant on-site. The museum is open throughout the year, and special events include Civil War train raid weekends and ghost train rides at Halloween, plus a Candy Cane Express at Christmas. You’ll be able to purchase tickets for these activities on the NRM website. Getting there is easy too, as the park has its own bus route.