I went to RailFest 2012 at the National Railway Museum yesterday. As it’s still on until Sunday, I’ve decided to write about it now, just in case you have time to go and visit.
Firstly, if you’re not normally interested in trains, then, to be frank, RailFest probably isn’t for you. In essence, you have several items of the NRM’s own collection, mixed in with some visiting trains, both old and new. This is great for train geeks like me, but not so great for those without a passion for rail travel, like Christine, who did not accompany me on this occasion.
You can go onto the footplate, or into the drivers cab of many of the trains on show, and there are plenty of volunteers around to talk with you about the train. Plus, every train on show has an information board, with many answering the question ‘Why is this here?’ as some locomotives are notable. There’s Sarah Siddons, a Metropolitan Railway locomotive preserved by London Underground which is now Britain’s oldest working electric locomotive. Or a class 43 High Speed Train locomotive called 43159, which was part of a pair of locomotives that set the official world speed record for a diesel locomotive, and which is still in regular revenue service with First Great Western. And next to it is 41001, the sole remaining prototype locomotive for the High Speed Train which has just commenced restoration. And then there are the more well-known locomotives – both Mallard and Sir Nigel Gresley were available for footplate talks, as was Tornado, a steam locomotive built in 2008 to original LNER designs.
But in a way it was nice to be able to get up close to some of the trains that we see every day, or look behind the scenes in places where passengers don’t normally go, like the drivers cab. It was particularly interesting comparing the cab of 41001, which dates from 1972, with the cab of one of the Class 395 Hitachi trains which operate on High Speed 1 for Southeastern’s domestic high speed services (and the Javelin services for the upcoming Olympics) which were introduced 37 years later in 2009. Both seem to have a similar number of buttons and controls but the latter could do so much more.
There were also a number of train rides available on standard, narrow and miniature gauge trains, although I didn’t take this up even though they were included with the entry price – £13 for all day if bought in advance online. The site was quite busy, especially in the afternoon, and, unsurprisingly, most visitors were older men with cameras and excitable young boys. The museum itself is open as usual, and remains free to those who aren’t interested in RailFest.
If you are going, allow at least 3 hours for RailFest alone, on top of any time you want to spend in the rest of the museum. I’d also advise bringing your own food as the catering on the RailFest site is extortionate (best part of £10 for a cheeseburger, chips and a bottle of cola). And also think of lots of questions to ask, as the volunteers are more than happy to answer them. It’s well worth the visit.