Thursday, 3 January 2013

Guest contribution from Chris Leigh

The New Year is not starting well at the National Railway Museum. The January edition of the Railway Magazine has a rather acid editorial. Short and sharp. The problem being (I concur) the preference of the Japanese media over the British. It is very important that the new management wins friends with the British railway press. There is no need to cowtow to them but it is pure wisdom that I would hope a philosophy graduate would understand that the media needs to be onboard with your plans. Two months into the new job and there has been no media briefing.

Instead the Steam Railway dropping onto the mats now, publishes the end product of David Wilcock threatening the museum with an FOI request. At this point (as I exclaim a breath at the arm wrestling that is going on) I am going to let Chris Leigh continue the story. I have worked with Chris for many years and appreciated his editing and writing for many years before that. He is a fully respected member of the preservation and model fraternity and well grounded on this planet in my opinion. He has sent me, with the intention that it be uploaded here, his summary of things at the start of 2013. Chris Leigh writes:

"In the latest issue of Steam Railway, which starts reaching subscribers today, David Wilcock reveals that he has finally, after five attempts and invoking the Freedom of Information legislation, received an answer to the question he asked the National Railway Museum about the cost of the 'Six A4s' event to be staged at the Museum later this year. In particular he wanted to know how much it had cost to bring the two A4s back from North America and to restore them before returning them to their owners in Canada and the USA.

Wilcock reveals a catalogue of alleged evasion and mis-information from the NRM before it provided the information that the exercise will have cost in excess of £250,000. His Steam Railway feature includes a table of costs associated with numerous visits of NRM staff to North America, in one instance running up a hotel bill in excess of £3,000 for a nine-day stay in Toronto (a place where I stayed in a top four-star hotel in the city centre for 7 days for £79 a night earlier this year).

This is set against further allegations (as yet unconfirmed by the NRM) that another major problem has been found by the latest engineering report on the beleaguered 'A3' Flying Scotsman and a report in another railway journal that the NRM's new head has already made a trip to meet press representatives abroad, while refusing to meet those in the UK.

On a recent visit to York, I found the presentation of exhibits in the main hall to be poor. Whilst the turntable is a considerable asset it is also a problem in that it dictates how the hall is laid out. That problem is compounded by a poor choice of prominent exhibits - the beautiful but not especially significant SECR 4-4-0 is the first sight for visitors, followed by a black 2-6-4T and a Rail blue 'Western' diesel. These are engulfed by nondescript display cases, an open cafe area and a sales concession of some sort, the other locomotives, including Mallard and the dynamometer car being squeezed in around the turntable and dominated by two Stanier 4-6-0s, neither of which belongs to the Museum. There is little guidance to the significance of these exhibits and seemingly no attempt to tell a coherent story of rail history.

It seems to me that the NRM needs to restore some credibility and quickly. It could do so by better displaying and caring for its own exhibits instead of spending large sums of money, which it doesn't have, on exhibits which don't belong to it and in the case of the A4s, will be returned abroad in due course. In particular, with the CRHS apparently being asked to raise just C$9,000 towards the re-styling of 60010, perhaps the next question which needs to be asked is 'Who's stumping up the rest?'"

I will not promise to agree with all Chris says and on some of it, I am not well placed to judge. I will suggest that the new director needs to engage with the British press, national and specialist soon. I will be so forward to hope I get an invite as well and I would be happy to either interview the new director or receive the NRM view on all this which can be published.

(For another take see ) .


  1. It is worth adding that during the autumn I too sought to get some facts and figures. As the NRM website suggests press enquiries at Shildon go to George Muirhead. I emailed him directly and posted the email here (but had no reply)

  2. . Morning Robert - My considered response . Hope all well with you