Ten or 15 years ago when I used to visit the National Railway Museum in York very often, I was very excited about the realtime railway signalling display they had installed on a balcony overlooking the East Coast Main Line which runs past the musuem. Could this really be live, I wondered? And yes, it was. Five screens showing real time train movements along the lines from north of Doncaster to Northallerton in Yorkshire. I spent hours looking over the displays and learning how everything worked. It was a real treat for a signalling enthusiast. Many lunchbreaks I spent there, after eating my lunch at the rather nice cafe (at which I receive a discount of 36.25% for being a member of the museum’s Friends). After a while I had picked up enough information, from watching the displays and from talking to more knowledgable visitors, to be able to explain the display to other visitors, and I would also give short talks to groups of schoolchildren as they visited the museum.
There were problems, however. The analogue monitors were subject to disturbance from the electrical interference generated by powerful electric locomotives as they drew power from the overhead lines. This would scramble the displays for a minute or so as trains left the station travelling north towards Newcastle. Over time the displays themselves became tired and began to fail, and it proved too difficult for the museum to arrange for them to be repaired. Such systems are built by disparate consortia and put into museums as a result of goodwill and negotiation. As people move on and firms are taken over or close down, the network of contacts which installed the displays can disperse. First, the departures board stopped working, and then one monitor after another failed and was switched off. I recall the day when I went to the museum to see a notice declaring that the display was to be removed; I was very sad. This became one reason why I no longer regularly visited the museum.
Earlier this week however I visited once again to have lunch, and went up to the gallery to see what was going on in the workshops. Imagine my surprise and joy to see that the live display had been modernised and re-presented, with five new flat-screen displays offering a much improved view of ECML operations. I was thrilled. The NRM had pulled a rabbit out of the hat. My future visits to the NRM will be much happier ones. Thanks, NRM!