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National Railway Museum unveils new Highlights exhibition

The National Railway Museum is kicking off the New Year with a new exhibition of significant items from the national collection, displayed together for the first time.

Called Highlights, the exhibition is situated on a balcony overlooking the museum’s Great Hall and includes beautiful paintings, medals, handcrafted models and other historically significant artefacts. The new exhibition will showcase parts of the collection of more than one million items that are seldom seen by visitors.

A recent acquisition going on display for the first time is train driver Wallace Oakes’s George Cross medal. This was awarded posthumously after Wallace stayed aboard a burning locomotive to prevent a serious accident in 1965, and is one of only a handful received by railway workers.

Other items include 16 rare and important railway paintings such as Terence Cuneo’s Service to Industry, commissioned by British Railways to show the importance of modernisation to the rail network. The exhibition also includes the 1955 painting Service By Night, as a tribute to the artist David Shepherd who died last year.

In keeping with the Highlights theme, museum Director Judith McNicol selected her favourite item to feature in the exhibition, which is a section of the original Britannia Bridge. Completed in 1850, the bridge was designed and built by railway pioneer Robert Stephenson to connect mainland Wales with Anglesey and was influential in the development of future railway bridges around the world.

Assistant Director and Head Curator Andrew McLean said:

“Although the 260 locomotives and vehicles are the most well-known part of our collection, they make up less than 0.5 per cent of the total, which includes everything from paintings, ceramics, signage and signal boxes to coins, furniture, photographs and rare books.

“This exhibition is intended to give people the opportunity to see a different side of the collection and to use paintings and objects to tell new stories about why the railways matter to all of us. Wallace Oakes’s medal for example remembers an act of great sacrifice that saved many lives, but it also tells us just how dangerous working on the railways was in the age of steam.”

The Highlights exhibition is now open during museum hours (10.00–17.00) and is free to enter. The exhibition is located on the Great Hall’s Search Engine balcony and replaces the Moveable Feast exhibition.

Highlights has been made possible through the generous support of the Friends of the National Railway Museum.


Notes to editors

For more information please contact:

Simon Baylis / 01904 686 299

Beci Fuller / 01904 686 271

About the National Railway Museum

  • The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway objects in the world and attracts over 700,000 visitors per year
  • The collection includes over 260 locomotives and rolling stock, 600 coins and medals, almost 5,000 pieces of railway uniform and costume, railway equipment, documents, records, artwork and railway-related photographs
  • The National Railway Museum houses a world-class collection of royal trains, which includes a collection of royal carriages, from those used by Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II
  • The National Railway Museum’s vast art collection comprises over 11,000 posters, 2,300 prints and drawings, 1,000 paintings, and 1,750,000 photographs, many of which have never been on public display
  • The National Railway Museum forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon
  • Admission to the National Railway Museum is free