Take a Trip Through Railway History

Friday 19th October 2018
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: we love trains. We’re obsessed with them, we are unashamed railfans. Trains flow through the North’s history. They symbolised the industrial age, they powered the region’s growth, and they still play a vital role. And, with a £500 million investment, we think they are a big part of the North's future.

So, being dotty on train travel, we’d like to share our dream trip – travelling through the history of train travel. To do this, we’re taking a round-trip from York to Darlington via Shildon. The journey is under two hours but you’ll want to spend time in each location and also have some lovely lunch, so put aside the best part of a day for this trip.

National Railway Museum, York
National Railway Museum The Mallard

Your first stop has to be The Great Hall. Here you can check out the Mallard which is still the fastest steam train in the world. It was built in 1938 and clocked a stunning 126 miles per hour on its record-breaking run. The Mallard is sleek, aerodynamic, a gorgeous shade of blue and is just the sort of icon that will turn you on to trains. The former engine shed also houses the only bullet train outside Japan (200 mph), a working replica of Stephenson’s Rocket (24 mph) and even a train gifted to the UK by the Chinese Government.
National Railway Museum Queen Victoria Carriage

While the 260 locomotives and vehicles are the main attraction, the museum also maintains a collection of fantastic memorabilia that charts the history of the railways. For instance, there’s the oldest complete working model railway in the world. Then there’s the George Cross medal posthumously awarded to Wally Oakes, the heroic driver who saved his passengers by guiding his burning steam train to safety. There’s even a brilliant exhibition on the navvies who built the railways and viaducts, the tunnels and bridges.
National Railway Museum Great Hall turntable

The National Railway Museum is the daddy when it comes to trains but it’s not exclusively for fans. They host lots of events and always try to have something on at half term so that you can entertain tiny potential rail enthusiasts. At the moment we’re most excited by Testing: a behind-the-scenes peek at the most exciting railway projects in the world. You can see cutting-edge tech from Crossrail, HS2 and the new Hitachi trains, not to mention the UK’s first Hyperloop pod.

Testing is on until April 2019, but the NRM is worth the trip anytime, especially as it’s free and there’s always something to do in York, so why not book a ticket today?

Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon
Locomotion Museum Shildon

Locomotion is just under an hour from the NRM in York, and to see both on the same day could blow a railfan’s single track mind.

Locomotion houses another fleet of incredible locomotives. There’s the Sans Pareil built in 1829 by Timothy Hackworth. This was presented as ‘the little engine that could’ in its battle against Stephenson’s Rocket. And though it couldn’t beat Rocket, it did see active service and played an important role in early steam train history.
The Sans Pareil

Moving through time, another example of what might have been is the Advanced Passenger Train. The infamous British Rail experimental train went down as a glorious failure but influenced later generations of tilting trains and set a speed record that lasted for a quarter of a century.
Trains on display at the Locomotion Museum

But our favourite exhibit is the private coach used by Queen Alexandra. Built in 1902, this royal carriage has a bathroom, dressing room and two salons, one for night and one for daytime. That’s the way to travel.

Locomotion tells the story of railway development and is perfectly geared for little ones. They always make sure to put on events that will capture young minds and fill their hearts. There’s no stopping though, this trip is now boarding for Darlington.


Head of Steam, Darlington
Locomotion No1 at Head of Steam

Twenty-two minutes from Shildon and you’ll be in Darlington amid more antique choo-choos. By now the pieces of rail history will be falling into place. We had the working replica of Stephenson’s Rocket in York. We had the rival technology – the Sans Pareil – in Shildon. Now we have Locomotion No.1 – the train George Stephenson built for the Stockton and Darlington railway, the first public railway in the world.
Booking Office Head of Steam

The Head of Steam also boasts the Derwent, built by Timothy Hackworth, 16 years after he made the Sans Pareil. When you see that, you see how your journey has been propelling you forward through history. The closest comparison is to imagine comparing a phone from 2002 to the sleek slabs of 2018. Trains evolved at a similar speed.

And then we’re done. As you cross the Tees on your 32-minute trip back to York, you can marvel at the stunning countryside and how trains have made that view speed by faster and faster during their 200-year history.

To start your journey, book a train to York today.