The Friends of the
South of England Group
|5 April 2011
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Diary of Events
The Future Direction of the NRM
Steve Davies, MBE
6 September 2010
Despite the Tube strike, fifteen members and guests welcomed the new director of the NRM. Steve started by explaining how his interest was sparked in railways. This started at home in Darwin, Lancashire, but at a time which was just too late to get a real appreciation of steam engines in normal work. In the 1970s he used to tramp round Agecroft, and visit the embryo steam centre at Carnforth. Following joining the army, his career took him to many different countries, most of which provided an experience of steam. For example in Wolsztyn during 1992 he experience Polish steam before the tourists discovered it. Surprisingly, in the early 1990s he discovered that steam engines were still extant in the Berlin area of Germany. They were mainly used for coach steam heating but occasionally ventured on the main-line for runs, and Steve managed the odd ride or two. In 1996 he visited Sarajevo with NATO troops and secured a ride on a tank engine footplate, during which some disgruntled native took a dislike to his uniform and had a pot shot at him, but hit the cab side. His driver said it wasn't a real attempt to get him; if it had, they would have opened up with machine guns! After a spell as a military advisor in Sierra Leone (see later), he finished his army career as Chief of Staff Army Headquarters Second Division. He then applied for the post of director of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. On getting the job, in August 2008, he embarked on a programme of improvements in order to improve railway operations there. One project involved returning the K1 – the first Beyer-Garrett built by Beyer, Peacock & Co, back to Gorton works on the centenary of its building. It was positioned in the boiler works which is now little used, and Steve considers it as ideal as a potential railway works.
But back to 2004 in Sierra Leone. This is a reasonably stable area in West Africa, with superb beaches and, after the civil war, a reasonably placid existence, apart from the capital, Freetown, which is chaotic. It was a British protectorate from 1840 to 1961, and was always a British military hub, even being used in the Falklands war. Steve had done some research before he arrived and knew there used to be a 350 route mile 2' 6” narrow gauge line, the infrastructure and stock of which was British supplied. Although having some diesel locomotives, steam survived to the end of the system in 1975. During the civil war,the rebels had destroyed much of the railway's infrastructure. Prior to Steve's arrival the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway bought one of the steam locomotives and some of the carriages. One day, Steve took a trip out to where the Chinese had been gifted a factory to build a new manufacturing plant. He was welcomed with the question “are you from the government to take away the trains?”. These had been lying there since 1977. Suitably surprised and delighted, he took a photographic record of what was left. Using his advisory position to the government, he arranged for a visit by the President and his cabinet to tour the site and Steve explained the historical significance of the remains. That night there was a documentary on the TV about the visit and Steve's plans to establish the national railway museum of Sierra Leone!
Somewhat embarrassed into action and slightly overwhelmed by what he had taken on, he managed to recruit a team of local workers and together they set about to clean up the place. At this time, the government had provided no funding, so Steve used his own money to pay the workers and the materials to repair the building. Five months into the project Steve spoke to the British Council and, as a result, an invitation went out to Andrew Scott to attend the opening event with the President and local dignitaries. This turned out to be nothing like Steve expected. Once the public got to hear about the opening, they descended in hordes to see what the white man was up to. While the resulting mêlée was enjoyable, the result was that the entire place was nearly as dirty as when they started. Never daunted, Steve and his staff cleaned up overnight. The grand opening went well, but the relaxing boat ride with Andrew Scott, a few days later,
turned into a nightmare as the boat crew hadn't told them they didn't have enough money for fuel, and the result was they became adrift 25 miles off-shore. A passing patrol boat, an exchange of money and a brief show of Steve's revolver, got them back to shore!
Coming up to date, Andrew and Steve have just returned from the Californian Railroad Museum which has a twinning arrangement with the NRM. This may result in the loan of one of their 4-4-0 locomotives, as used on the prairies and which helped to created a nation. Although such a loan has not been agreed, it could have a role at the NRM in showing how railways have influenced the geopolitical world. Steve has also visited the Nuremberg museum for the 175th anniversary for German Railways. At that museum, Der Adler is displayed alongside the NRM's sectioned Rocket and Sans Parreil. In return for the loan of the latter two engines, the Germans are offering their 05007 locomotive a class-mate of which, for a short time, once held the world steam speed record. This could be a useful addition to a display of world record breakers.
Steve is looking forward to the challenges in taking over the reigns at the NRM from Andrew. Current major tasks include the implementation of NRM+ and the redevelopment of the Great Hall. Both now have the added complication of progressing at the time of government spending cuts. The plans currently include a £21M investment in the redevelopment of the Great Hall. This will result in a stunning presentation of the story of the railways. Steve showed the plans for NRM+ and how the displays will be arranged around the existing turntable. This will be decked over but the modification will still allow stock to be moved out, albeit only occasionally. There will be plenty of interpretive material to help visitors around the various sections. These sections will cover various aspects of the history and role of railways in modern life, including freight transport and commuting, as well as how the railways themselves were built.
The construction of NRM+ also includes a new mezzanine floor, new entry and bridge over Leeman Road, together with the relocation of the signal gantry so it is positioned over the main entrance from Leeman Road.
After the Great Hall, the Station Hall needs to be made less gloomy. The priority here is a better presentation of the Royal Trains and the cleaning up of Winston Churchill.
The South Yard, which has evolved over the years into something of a dumping ground, is also coming under Steve's attention. It will become the site for a new part-roundhouse, which will be used as an operational base for the main-line locomotive fleet. The intention is to allow the public to see the servicing of visiting engines. It will also have the benefit of separating locomotive engineering, restoration and operation. A raked seating area around the yard will be used for open air presentations – not just for railway-related events but as a general facility for the York area.
Steve has also been considering how to bring some of the existing demonstrations up to date. For example, by using digital projection techniques superimposed on the real display, Ellerman Lines will become a simulation/presentation showing the science of steam engines.
He and his team are also taking advice from other international museums. The Japanese railway museum, for example, has an extensive number of simulations including a computer-linked real steam engine cab with all controls and instruments operating in real-time in response to the driver and fireman's actions. They also have a narrow-gauge electric demonstration line which allows members of the public to try their hand at driving a miniature modern EMU on a fully signalled track. Some of these could be replicated in the South Yard together with a children's' play area and a 2ft gauge railway for visiting narrow-gauge locomotives.
The NRM's engines will continue to be out on the main line. The repair of Flying Scotsman is progressing and it will be out next summer – we have Steve's word on that! He also aims to have Duchess of Hamilton on the main line sometime in the near future. He does not intend to ignore the diesel fleet and will aim to have about 4 diesel-electrics operating (not hydraulics, due to the lack of servicing facilities). To facilitate all this, he has recruited two more fitters to boost the workshop staff.
The museums at York and Locomotion (which received its millionth visitor this month) are to be better integrated. In August next year there will be test runs of shuttles from York South Yard to Locomotion with steam and heritage diesel. In addition, Evening Star will come to York, while Mallard is at Locomotion. When she returns to York it may be possible for her to spend some days in York station to attract visitors to the NRM.
The Museum will continue to loan equipment to other preserved railways. This could include buildings as well as locos. They will also provide consultation services to overseas museums – Ecuador is already in the queue.
Steve is clearly passionate about railways and the Museum but he recognises that he and his staff cannot accomplish all the above and he looks to the Friends to help. Together it looks like we are going to have a busy time!