Over the past four decades schoolparties and railway enthusiasts have descended on it in their hordes.
Today as the National Railway Museum celebrated its 40th anniversary, it could look back on many highlights and forward to what should be a bumper year next year, with the return of its star attraction Flying Scotsman.
Home to a collection of over 300 locomotives and rolling stock, including the only Japanese bullet train outside Japan, the NRM has a special place in the nation’s heart.
In 2013 just short of 1m people came to see the world’s fastest steam locomotive Mallard reunited with five surviving A4s - 250,000 in the space of just four weeks.
Another highlight was the arrival in 2005 of Flying Scotsman, with crowds filling the platform at both stations to see, touch and film him, and hundreds more gathering along a 40-mile route.
Those scenes could be eclipsed next year on the steam legend’s inaugural run from London Kings Cross to York, following a £4.2m restoration, forming the opening event for the museum’s February Flying Scotsman Season.
The museum, recently judged one of the nation’s top 10 attractions, and Virgin East Coast celebrated its 40th anniversary by unveiling a locomotive named in the NRM’s honour - locomotive 43238 “National Railway Museum 40 Years 1975 – 2015.”
Museum director Paul Kirkman said: “Anniversaries are times of reflection and it is with huge pride that I recognise the development of the National Railway Museum over the last 40 years. I am truly grateful to the many organisations that have worked with us over that time – especially our esteemed counterparts in the railway industry. They help us to tell the amazing stories of the railways, old and new, so that our visitors can understand the importance of the industry and its impact on us and our world.”
When the museum opened in the Great Hall, the original locomotive shed for York, rail passenger numbers had been in decline since the 1950s and stood only a little above their all-time low.
But now numbers continue to grow and the country’s most significant infrastructure schemes are railways.
Mr Kirman said: “After a long history of being relatively moribund the railways are taking off again. There’s all kinds of exciting new trains, the biggest infrastructure projects in the country are Crossrail and HS2 and the trains that are on the East Coast mainline, some of them are 40 years old and they will be replaced in the next few years by some really modern trains, built by Hitachi, at their new space age factory in County Durham
“There is definitely more interest as people are using the railways more and they are more in the news.”
The museum is celebrating its anniversary with a new exhibition, Destination Stations, which raids the archives to celebrate the architectural history of Britain’s stations, charting their evolution from their early days, when stations were “as rudimentary as bus stops”, to the shiny new retail and leisure centres today.
• Among the special guests today were three volunteers, who between them have accrued 120 years at the museum.
David Eastoe, Peter Brumby and Rob Tibbits blew out candles on a specially designed celebration cake.
Mr Tibbits, who was cleaning Flying Scotsman on the day the Museum opened said: “It’s been a pleasure being present at all the milestone moments, including the opening of Station Hall in 1995 and the addition of Search Engine in 2008, big rail events including the Railfest celebrations of 2004 and 2012, the award-winning Mallard 75 season and numerous Royal visits. We can’t wait to see what the next 40 years will bring.”