Showing our rail vehicles in action is one of the most direct tools we have to share our values with visitors: revealing wonder and igniting curiosity.
As we move towards our 50th anniversary, we have sought to define our priorities and to create a clear strategy that covers all vehicle operation at our museum sites, at heritage railways and on the main line.
The strategy will span the next 15 years and will cover the National Railway Museum in York, Locomotion in Shildon and the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester.
The main point guiding this strategy is the view that as museums, displaying collection objects is the best way for us to tell engaging stories and to reach a wide audience.
However, there will continue to be an important role for operational locomotives at our sites, at heritage railways with our loan partners and on the main line.
The strategy covers all forms of motive power (steam/diesel/electric), plus a full variety of vehicles – locomotives, powered units, carriages and wagons. It also looks to the future of what may or may not become eligible for operation when additions are made to the collection.
The strategy identifies five core steam locomotives for operating on our sites, so that four can be in service at any one time. It also identifies three diesel locomotives, three diesel railcars or units, and three electric vehicles which might operate. In the longer term, there is potential for the electric vehicles to be battery operated.
The Science Museum Group (SMG) will run both passenger and goods trains for visitors at our sites, with rolling stock to match specific periods and seasons. A unique offer, for example, will be the chance to ride in an open coach behind the replica Rocket. Despite it being a challenge in wet weather, it is nevertheless a unique experience!
We intend to continue operating steam locomotives Flying Scotsman and Oliver Cromwell (following its scheduled overhaul) on the main line. As the Group’s key focus in coming years will be the transformation of its York and Shildon sites, no further main line steam restorations will be considered until after 2021. After this point, there is potential to consider operating steam locomotive Green Arrow on the main line for the first time since 2008.
Vehicles selected for long-term exhibition at SMG sites will not be considered for loan or operation as we seek to use them to tell the wider story of railways through our displays. In line with this, SMG will not operate diesel and electric locomotives on the main line, but these locomotives will be kept in a condition that allows them to be transported by rail if required for loan or display. I would like to thank all our diesel volunteers for their service over the past ten years and in particular, for the excellent care and attention that the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) locomotive no. 55002 has received.
I realise that that some people would like to see historic diesels continue to operate on the main line. However, we feel that in most cases, the best way to discover the story of a particular locomotive is by seeing it in person at one of our museums. There are also considerable operational demands and risks inherent in main line operation which are not sustainable for the Group or necessarily in the best interests of the locomotives.
There are several vehicles currently on loan for operation on heritage railways, and this will continue to be an important part of our activities. Completion of a new vehicle store at Locomotion will limit the number of vehicles loaned only for collections care and vehicle loans will be assessed on their own merits and in accordance with the needs and wishes of the Group and of borrowers.
The strategy is a dynamic document and realises the practicalities and resources required to manage our collection; therefore, it will be reviewed each year to keep it relevant and achievable. Managing the collection effectively is our obligation and this strategy is key to that part of our activity.
With this strategy the Group will continue to have the largest fleet of operational preserved historic locomotives in the UK, as well as an unrivalled collection of static items and exhibits at our five museums. This will enable us to continue to engage and inspire future generations about the past, present and future of the railways.
The full strategy is available to read on the Science Museum Group website.