China Railway Museum

With steam surviving into the 21st century, China was perhaps slow in making efforts to preserve its earlier railway heritage, but Paul Stratford reports from Beijing on the country’s impressive railway museum.

The United Kingdom may be able to boast the National Railway Museum in York and the annexe at Shildon, but China, better known for cultural heritage museums, has the China Rail Museum in Beijing, the only national professional museum in the country. It was formerly called the Museum of Science and Technology of Ministry of Railways.

The steam locomotive end of the museum as depicted on the admission ticket.

China Railway Museum is China’s museum of its railway system, sponsored by the Ministry of Railways. On November 2, 2002, the locomotive exhibition hall of the Ministry of Railways Science and Technology Museum opened to the public, and was officially renamed the China Railway Museum on September 1, 2003. The purpose-built museum is located in the Chaoyang District 15kms north east of downtown Beijing, within the circular test track of the China National Railway Test Centre.

The exhibition hall covers an area of 16,500 square metres and has eight tracks exhibiting steam locomotives, modern traction locomotives and rolling stock. Like most museums nowadays the emphasis is on education, encouraging students and school parties to appreciate not only the past, but also the way forward in future rail technology.

After a couple of false starts the railway revolution began in China around 1881 with the import of a British built 0-4-0T numbered 0 (zero) possibly built by Black Hawthorn & Co. which is now exhibited in the museum. Railways were built in various gauges across China, all utilising locomotives imported from builders in the UK, USA, Europe, Japan and Russia.

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