A new exhibition celebrating the region's railway heritage has been hailed as the “most significant regeneration project”. 

The New Hall has opened at Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, making it Europe’s largest collection of historic rail vehicles.

The museum hopes to attract 250,000 visitors a year to its display of more than 100 historic vehicles and artifacts that celebrate the role of Shildon as the world’s first railway town. 

Sarah Price, head of Locomotion, said the museum is now “bigger and better than ever”. 

The Northern Echo: Snow plough travelling to Locomotion Snow plough travelling to Locomotion (Image: Charlotte Graham)  

She added: “Whether you’re joining our special opening celebrations or making a date to visit us in the future, New Hall is the place to be to celebrate the North East’s railway story for generations to come, ahead of the nationally significant bicentenary celebration of the railways in 2025.” 

Peter Robinson, a volunteer at Locomotion who was employed at the Shildon railway works from 1956 to 1984, said:  “It has been my life’s ambition to see something like this in Shildon. I’ve been into New Hall to view the display and it’s a wonderful place.   

“I entered the works in 1956 and I was there until 1984. The closure was a devastating blow to the community. My whole life has been built around railways - the museum provides me with a place to share that passion with other people. 

“It’s a hugely positive asset for Shildon. I speak to people from all over the country, and even internationally, who have come to Shildon specifically to visit the museum.”   

The Northern Echo: Visitors inside LocomotionVisitors inside Locomotion (Image: Mark Slater)

What to expect

Historically significant vehicles built at the Shildon works, two snowploughs, a tracked Bren Gun Carrier, two cranes, and the Hetton Colliery Lyon, built in 1851. The museum’s existing Main Hall has also been refreshed and redisplayed.    

Almost 1,000 vehicle moves were undertaken to achieve the new displays – the museum’s largest ever series of shunts, involving a team of in-house workshop and traction experts, conservators, and specialist contractors.  

Inside New Hall, oral histories from former Shildon’s rail workers are used alongside historic film clips and graphics that bring the collection to life and highlight the significance of coal, industry and freight transportation - and how the North East’s industry and innovation influenced the world.  

The building is the centrepiece of a host of other improvements and additions to Locomotion’s site, including the return of the iconic Gaunless Bridge, designed by George Stephenson.   

Originally spanning the River Gaunless, from 1823 to its removal in 1901, Gaunless Bridge is one of the first railway bridges to be constructed of iron and the very first to use an iron truss. The bridge was sympathetically restored and repainted to its original colour scheme in early 2024 and is now installed on the approach to New Hall.   

Recommended reading: 

Don't miss out on the latest news and stories. Subscribe to The Northern Echo now for £3 for three months.  

Other improvements at Locomotion include newly planted landscaped gardens, designed to increase biodiversity across the site, renovations to historic railway buildings, enhancements to parking facilities, and the restoration of the site’s historic coal drops.  

Free tickets are available for a special opening bank holiday weekend (24-27 May), with a host of celebratory family-friendly activities on offer.    

Steam engine rides on a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, live performances on an outdoor stage, science pop-ups, storytelling, and crafting activities will take place across the May Bank Holiday weekend, continuing into the following week’s half-term holidays.