Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Not museum but archive

Posted in Great Britain, Other general stuff about railways, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 11 May 2012

I’m reading a book at the moment called This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All which is intended to show how much easier it is for people to get through life knowing that there are other people that can help them navigate through the increasingly complex ways of finding and using information. While the book is primarily focused on the world of libraries, it also passes a nod to the archivist, and there was a quote that struck me:

At the forgotten edges of library work, [are] the archivists, those trying to capture history before it dissolves into the unrecorded past…

The context of this in terms of the book is that, with the ever multiplying amounts and sources of information available, preserving that for the ages becomes ever more difficult; while the contents of the first telephone call have been recorded and preserved, thanks to Alexander Graham Bell recording it in his journal, the contents of the first email, believed to have been sent in 1964, have been lost to the ages. However, it also got me thinking about more substantial things than electronic messages.

It could perhaps be said that museums are “archives of the physical” – physical objects rather than papers and ideas are kept and maintained, but the principle is the same. Objects that might otherwise be lost forever can be preserved and maintained for the ages to follow. In this, the National Railway Museum is no exception, responsible as it is for the National Collection. Of course, the collection is large and the NRM maintains it well given scarce resources. And of course the fact that its resources are scarce means that it has to prioritise. But is it giving priority to the right things?

I have spoken in the past about the sole remaining Class 487 vehicle that is sat in a fairly delapidated state at the LT Museum depot. There could certainly be a case made for this to be part of the National Collection as (the 1992 Stock trains currently used notwithstanding) these were the only specific tube train designs constructed for the national network. However, a little random lunchtime Wikipedia surfing found me on the article relating to the 4DD Class, the only double deck passenger trains used in Britain. Two driving motors are currently “preserved”, although neither of them is under cover and, based on some of the pictures that I’ve seen of them on Flickr, they look in pretty poor condition. But these are unique pieces of Britain’s railway history. Similarly, there remains a single Class 504 unit; these were EMUs powered by a unique, 1200V third rail with side pick up system that were replaced when the routes they ran on were converted to Metrolink. Again, this is the sole survivor (with the exception of a set of third rail collection gear that is at the NRM) of a unique part of modern rail heritage that has, to all intents and purposes, been dumped and left to rot.

There are people out there that, in the face of the complete extinction, resolve to turn back the tide. The lack of any Peppercorn Class A1 locomotives meant that a group of enterprising people decided to build a new one, and so the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust was born. Similarly, although six Class 55 Deltics escaped being cut up, none of the Class 23s survived, which is why there is a Class 37 in pieces being cut and sculpted to produce a replica Baby Deltic by the Baby Deltic Project. But I’d imagine it’s a lot more difficult to produce either a replica or even a brand new unit of a long gone multiple unit type, which is why it’s important to properly preserve the important ones that are still in existence.

But then I’m not a railwayman, so what do I know?

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5 Responses

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  1. Chris said, on 12 May 2012 at 6:54 pm

    The W&C vehicle was sat outside the NRM next to the ECML for some time, so presumably it is/was part of the national collection but is now being looked after by the LTM – given its greater relevance to the Underground, and crucially their ability to keep it in undercover, i see no problem with it being at Acton.

    • Chairman Pip said, on 12 May 2012 at 9:11 pm

      I’m not suggesting there’s a problem with where it is; it’s just a shame that there’s no money around to restore it and display it. But the 4DD and the 504 are not stored well, are equally unique and could well be in danger.

  2. Colin McLeod said, on 14 May 2012 at 5:19 pm

    A very good article on a subject dear to my heart. In Ireland we have lost the GNR(I) AECs and BUTs not to mention the UTA MEDs and MPDs and it may only be time before the 80 class disappear for ever as well. Examples of the steam locomotives that the above mentioned railcars replaced are still to be seen thanks to the efforts of the RPSI but an important part of the history is gone. I’m not so familiar with the GB types, but I’m sure the story is similar.

  3. mick heaphy said, on 30 June 2012 at 7:03 pm

    i thought one of the preservation groups got some of the class 80s? i think driving trailor 6111 from the CIE AEC railcars survives in a derelict state at IE’s inchacore works? with all the preservation groups now i can’t find any excuse for why at least 1 example of a train type isn’t preserved.

    • Colin McLeod said, on 30 June 2012 at 9:09 pm

      Hi Mick.

      The preservation groups preserve what interests them and what they can afford to preserve.
      One of the English preservation groups has an 80 class power car for spare parts for their preserved Hastings unit.
      Would you consider purchasing 6111 and/or an 80 class set to save them and start the ball rolling for full preservation?


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