Collecting trains is a quaint, imaginative hobby. Collectors learn about and understand history as they study and obtain various models that illustrate different points in history, exhibit different modes of locomotion, and provide whimsical, lifelike recreations of a time gone by.
With that in mind, imagine the world’s greatest model train collection, expand the scale and authenticity of that collection by about ten thousand times, and you have some idea of what it’s like to visit the very authentic, very full-size collection of historic locomotives at the British National Railway Museum (BNRM).
The BNRM is the world’s largest, and arguably best preserved, collection of train cars and locomotives. The museum includes hundreds of locomotives of every sort, spanning more than 300 years of railway history in life-sized glory. On any given day, the cavernous showroom is filled with gleaming, polished cars and locomotives, allowing visitors to see, touch, and climb all over a piece of actual history.
Perhaps more impressively, the trainyards surrounding the museum provide working demonstrations of locomotives as they were intended to be – chugging, steaming or muscling their way down a pair of iron tracks.
The impressive machinations of the museum are possible due to the historic nature of the site – long before it was a museum, the building (and surrounding yards) was a fully functional steam locomotive depot, acting as a transit hub for the Britain’s railway traffic. When it was designated a national museum, it instantly became one of the largest museums in the country, and the only national museum to reside outside of London proper.
The current focus of the museum is to provide an integrated view of railway culture, going beyond the trains themselves and examining cultural artifacts surrounding them, from photography to antiques to original print materials such as books, manuals, passenger tickets, travel posters and advertisements. This provides to a wealth of intriguing insights and nostalgia centered on a once-grand industry and the world it left behind.