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National Railway Museum scraps contest after funding bid fails

The Great Hall at York’s National Railway Museum
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The Science Museum Group has shelved its search for a design team for a major £12 million overhaul of the National Railway Museum in York after the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected its funding application

In a statement, the Science Museum Group said: ‘As a result of an unsuccessful funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Railway Museum tender for the design of the Great Hall exhibition has been cancelled. All parties concerned have been informed.

‘The museum’s masterplan and the project to regenerate the Great Hall will still go ahead, but we are reviewing the phasing and timescales. Another tender with a revised brief will be issued at a later date.’

The winner of the £600,000 tender – issued in March – would have drawn up plans for an ambitious redisplay and reinterpretation of the museum’s 8,300m² Great Hall exhibition space which has changed little since the landmark museum opened inside a former railway depot more than 40 years ago.

A total of 155 companies expressed an interest in the project with 27 completing the online pre-qualification questionnaire. A shortlist had been identified but not yet invited to the second stage by the time the tender was cancelled.

The scheme was intended as the first phase of a wider regeneration masterplan for the city-centre museum scheduled to finish in 2025. Contracts for a new open collections store and 2,300m² ‘Wonderlab’ featuring hands-on galleries and learning spaces designed to inspire future generations of engineers were also due to be tendered separately as part of the masterplan. 

The National Railway Museum was created on the former 8.1ha site of the York North Locomotive Depot in 1975 and today features more than 100 power cars and 200 other items of rolling stock. The museum is the largest of its type in the country and receives 750,000 visitors a year.

Its main exhibition space – the Great Hall – was constructed in 1877 as one of nine engine sheds at the York depot housing and preparing steam locomotives for the East Coast Mainline. The enormous structure, which features a giant turntable at its centre, was used to store decommissioned steam trains from 1968 up until its conversion into a museum.

Items on display include Stephenson’s Rocket, the record-breaking Mallard and the only Shinkansen Bullet Train outside Japan. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • On my first visit, ten days ago, the spectacle of the vast range of exhibits was run a close second by the sight of the remarkable number of overseas visitors - many from way beyond Europe.
    The National Lottery Fund sometimes moves in mysterious ways, and I hope that it's not influenced by the fact that the Museum doesn't charge an entry fee - it's not allowed to.

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  • There can be any number of reasons why an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund might be rejected, but the fact that the museum doesn't charge for admission is almost certainly not one of them. That would normally count as a point in its favour.

    The sad truth is simply that fewer people are playing the lottery, there is less money to distribute and the fund is hugely oversubscribed. The Museum could have done everything right and just had the bad luck of submitting in a round that was full of very strong applications.

    Unfortunate, but it happens. I'm sure they will dust themselves off, regroup and try again.

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