Head of steam gathers for York rail museum expansion

Inside the National Railway Museum, in York
Inside the National Railway Museum, in York
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The journey from Flying Scotsman to the Hitachi Azuma has taken the railway industry 95 years – but passengers may soon be able to do it in less time than it takes to walk to the buffet car.

A vast expansion programme unveiled by York’s National Railway Museum will see its two halves joined together and the whole complex linked to the city’s main station.

The railway museum is currently split in two

The railway museum is currently split in two

It is there, on platform nine, that the Azuma trains commissioned by Richard Branson’s outgoing Virgin franchise, will begin to arrive from London later this year.

At present, the walk from the station to the museum takes 10 minutes, even though the buildings are sited either side of the main line. But the proposals to transform the museum will see them linked by a new public space built around the Victorian brick “coal drops” from which wagons dropped fuel into storage hoppers in the railways’ steam age.

The plans will also mean the rerouting of Leeman Road, which currently separates the museum’s two halves, onto the planned central road network for York, and the closure to through traffic of an adjacent road.

The museum, which acknowledges that “while we have the best railway collection in the world, our physical infrastructure is not world-class”, says the proposals are in an early stage but represent its greatest development opportunity since its creation in 1975.

The proposal for the redeveloped museum

The proposal for the redeveloped museum

It attracted 567,000 visitors in the last nine months and is rated the 22nd most visited museum in the country.

Its collection of more than 1m railway artefacts includes the record-breaking steam locomotives Flying Scotsman and Mallard, both of which once plied the east coast main line just outside.

Museum director Judith McNicol said the planned development would bring “huge benefits to the local community and all our visitors” and that discussions were taking place between the city council and other parties involved in the proposed development of the large brownfield site known as York Central, to the west of the station.

Ms McNicol said: “The detail of our plans and the exact timetable are all subject to funding and we have a long way to go to make our vision a reality.

“There are many things that need to come together to enable us to deliver our aspirations, including the broader York Central development.”

The museum’s proposals include a complete renovation of the Victorian-era Great Hall and the creation of a children’s “wonderlab” similar to those at the Science Museum and Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum. All three are part of the Science Museum Group.

Ms McNicol said: “The redeveloped museum would open up our fantastic collections to many thousands more people and enable them to discover the vital impact that railways have had upon all our lives, as well as inspiring the next generation of rail engineers.”

Leeman Road, which carries traffic from the north-west into and out of York, will be the subject of a public consultation this year. The museum says its rerouting is necessary to allow the building of a central area which would connect its galleries.

It said in a statement: “Leeman Road splits our site in half and creates a number of challenges to accessing and navigating our site.

“We encourage York residents and businesses to join us in supporting the re-routing of Leeman Road to enable these benefits to be realised.”