A RAILWAY museum has opened its doors for the first time since lockdown commenced.

Staff at Locomotion museum in Shildon, County Durham, were in high spirits yesterday as visitors were once again allowed entrance into the building, which is filled with historic trains and railway exhibits.

Sarah Price, head of locomotion at the museum, showed her excitement about the reopening and the upcoming developments at the site.

She said: “You can’t see because I’ve got my mask on, but I’ve got the biggest smile on my face that we’ve been able to open our doors.

“It’s 19 weeks to the day since we closed, and museums are all about how we engage with people.

“To not have people in the museum has been hard for us all, so to be able to throw our doors open today and welcome everybody just feels absolutely fantastic.”

The announcement has also been made that the museum is working alongside the National Railway Museum and Cleveland Bridge to return The Gaunless Bridge, the world’s first iron railway bridge, to Shildon where it was originally constructed.

Chris Droogan is managing director of Cleveland Bridge, a company working internationally with design, engineering, fabrication and construction of steel bridges and structures.

He said: “We are delighted to be able to support the return of the Gaunless Bridge back to Shildon.

“This is a major part of the North-East’s industrial rail heritage, and as an internationally renowned bridge builder from the North-East, we are proud of our roots and the significance this area played in the transformative railway industry”

Ms Price added: “One of the things we want to do here at Shildon is tell the story of how the North-East really shaped the global railways.

“So to be able to get the world’s first iron railway back here in the North-East two miles away from where it was originally located allows us to tell a really powerful inspiring story.

“We really want to say to people the North-East has always been about creativity, ingenuity and engineering expertise, so to have that here, such an iconic object, is really going to help us drive that story forwards.”

As the museum welcomed visitors once again yesterday, staff discussed the precautions taken to ensure Covid-19 safety standards were met.

On the measures put in place, Ms Price said: “We wanted to make sure that people still had a really fantastic museum experience, and health and safety became a top priority for us.

"We’re asking visitors and our colleagues to wear masks when they’re in the building, and the museum now has a one-way route, so you can still see all the fantastic stars of the collection, but this allows us to ensure we can keep people distanced.

“We’ve actually been really lucky that we’ve been able to keep most of our interactive exhibits, so people can still see the Rowland Emett sculpture, because the route has allowed us to put enough space around so that visitors can still see that work.”

Peter Livesey, communications officer at the museum, said: "We’ve introduced free timed tickets to make sure people can have an enjoyable and safe visit, which visitors can book on our website.

“We’ve introduced a one-way route through the museum, and when visitors are queuing for the café, we have social distancing markers in place to keep people separated, again to ensure everyone a safe visit.

“There are hand sanitisers spread throughout the museum which we encourage people to use, and people are also encouraged to wear face masks when visiting the museum."

On upcoming plans and expectations for the future, Ms Price said: “As part of our plans to celebrate 2025, we’re going to have a brand-new building onsite.

“It’s about two thirds the size of the existing building, and it will allow us to bring up more vehicles from the national collection.

“People not just from the North-East, but from across the country and the world can come and see more exciting historic stories.

“It really places Shildon and the North-East at the heart of it.”

Karen Rennison, who was visiting the museum with her six-year-old son, said: “We’re really pleased it’s reopening, because we were regular visitors prior to lockdown.

“My little boy was six last week and he’s just got his first model railway, so he was desperate to come back because he loves trains, so we're really glad that it's open again.

“It has been really well managed today as well, with plenty of social distancing and sanitisers, so we felt really safe.”