Scandal of museum threat

First they took the trains. Now they want to take the museum that celebrates their invention away. What a way to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beeching report which did for a third of Britain’s railway lines. One suspects that even the old axeman would be outraged.

The fact that there is even the remotest possibility that the National Railway Museum in York, along with the two other less well known museums in Manchester and Bradford, could be closed is a scandal that must be nipped in the bud.

The railways are a British invention which spread rapidly around the world.  The Manchester Museum of Science & Industry in fact houses the original station built for the world’s first major railway, the Liverpool & Manchester which opened in 1830. The NRM is one of the country’s most successful museums precisely because people have an understanding of that heritage and Britain’s role in developing an invention which, for nearly a hundred years, was the principal mode of transport for journeys of any distance.

The NRM is most assuredly not just a place for trainspotters to snap their favourite locomotive. Quite the opposite. It is a fantastically well designed museum that shows the place of railways in a wider social context and demonstrates their importance in history.

That role can hardly be exaggerated. Before the advent of the railways, most people’s lives were confined to a very small area round their town and village. The railways opened up the world and remarkably, within twenty years of the inauguration of the Liverpool & Manchester, Britain had more than 5,000 miles of line, an absolutely remarkable achievement in the pre-mechanised age.

No other country in the world would think of jettisoning its heritage in such a cavalier way. In the end, the railways saw off Beeching because they survived and thrived. So must the National Railway Museum.

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