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By Judith McNicol on

Vision 2025 and the journey to Net Zero

Director Judith McNicol explains how Vision 2025 will help reduce the museum's carbon emissions.

Vision 2025, the £55m transformation of the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon, is our five-year journey to become the World’s Railway Museum. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to connect the past with the present to inspire the innovators, the engineers and the problem-solvers of the future.

So, it’s only right that environmental sustainability is embedded into this journey. It colours and informs our approach for design, construction, operation and engagement.

Central Hall interior
Central Hall interior. Credit: Feilden Fowles

Natural materials, passive design and minimal intervention are our guiding principles. Central Hall, a new building that will be at the heart of visitor’s welcome, is a pioneering example of sustainable design, using a wooden structure and natural light. It will demonstrate a holistic approach to creating and operating a building with minimal environmental impact.

Central Hall exterior
Central Hall exterior. Credit: Feilden Fowles

We will be working closely with our new term maintenance contractor, CBRE, to ensure that the operation of the buildings is considered during design. Through re-use of our current infrastructure and minimising new construction, we will identify the balance between embodied carbon and longevity.

Vision 2025 will play a really important role in reducing our scope 1 and 2 direct carbon emissions in York and in Shildon—most of which comes from use of natural gas for our heating.

To reduce energy demands of existing buildings—where roofs are replaced, we will do so with improved insulation and where current heating systems are updated we will seek to replace these with more efficient systems, lessening our dependency on gas boilers where possible.

Gas accounts for over three quarters of the operational carbon footprint at NRM and Locomotion, so investment in alternative heating technology will be a significant step in reducing our carbon footprint.

In line with the Estate Decarbonisation Strategy, Vision 2025 will create a site-wide Masterplan for Energy and carbon reduction. This will address four key areas of improvement: building fabric, heating appliances, management systems and monitoring.

South Yard concept
South Yard concept design. Credit: Gustafson, Porter & Bowman

Development of the York Central site—our new neighbourhood—will transform former industrial areas into new green spaces, providing access to nature—supporting physical and mental wellbeing for our visitors, our local residents, and for all of those who work at the National Railway Museum.

At Locomotion environmental considerations were built in from day one, when the Welcome building was designed 16 years ago it has solar cells on the roof and underfloor heating.

Locomotion building two
Locomotion building two. Credit: Feilden Fowles

Through Building Two we will build on this legacy, implementing a design with minimal need for mechanical heating and cooling. To support the additional electricity demand from alternative heating methods, we will also explore the viability of renewable electricity, making future installations much easier and cost-effective.

Locomotion wildflower meadow
Locomotion wildflower meadow

We have been improving our green space at Locomotion for several years including the introduction of wildflower planting and we will grow this legacy across both museum sites, drawing links between nature and the railways who are responsible for forging green corridors across the country.

Just a word now, on steam.

I very strongly believe that the museum’s journey towards net zero is not incompatible with operating working steam locomotives. We are committed to the continued operation of rail vehicles, including steam locomotives, at the National Railway Museum, Locomotion and Science and Industry Museum.

What I want to stress is the incredibly positive role that working steam engines can play in bringing the collection to life and to inspire and educate our visitors. People expect to see a railway locomotive at work and enjoy being able to travel behind one in operation.

And beyond our museums, we will continue limited main line rail operations with locomotives such as Flying Scotsman and Oliver Cromwell. We’ve enjoyed a long history of lending these ambassadors of our collection for operation to museums and heritage railways up and down the country, and this will continue, creating valued relationships and growing new audiences.

We are working hard to understand the full environmental impact of steam locomotives across the country; however, our current estimate is that operating rail vehicles account for 3% of our overall carbon footprint.

But there is always more we can do. Our strategy focuses on engines that use less coal, and run cleaner and we are working with heritage railways and our partners in the rail industry to find most sustainable way to source coal, as well as exploring the use of synthetic coal—where this can be produced sustainably.

At the risk of repeating myself, Vision 2025 really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Like the climate challenge we all face, our response to this opportunity is driven by a sense of urgency and purpose: to think big, to be a responsible tenant in our small patch of this planet, and to leave a positive legacy for those who follow.

3 comments on “Vision 2025 and the journey to Net Zero

  1. Solar + thermal panels on roof to maximise….for heating,electric power for your buildings+money back in your account ….don’t like your design of that roof such a waste,by all means open it out make the hole bigger put wider balcony…this so called footprint is ********..I have got to travel from Cornwall to you …. as like loads of people from all over Uk 🇬🇧….

  2. Dear sir/madam it’s looks outstanding the vision for new look. I have missed not being able to visit museum. What would bring in a lot of revenue for museum would to do a Raffle To ride on flying Scotsman for all winners from York to London and because you have train full of winners you sell lots of tickets because people would know there’s few hundred seats there’s a good chance of winning.

  3. I personally think that stopping the running of any steam locomotive that is presently capable of running under power and is currently also doing so would be a big mistake! Steam as a power source is far more environmentally friendly than diesel where the byproducts are less harmful than heavy diesel fuels. What is the problem with steam, a little soot and Ash?? I would much rather see a steam locomotive in action than their modern replacements as after all steam locos had little issues with “the wrong kind of snow etc”

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