National Railway Museum is too small to go it alone

The National Rail Museum is a rail heritage group based at Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch. A date of establishment isn’t something I could put my finger on right now, but I am guessing 2003 would be an approximation but it could well be earlier than that. I do recall a number of events taking place in 2003 which appeared to be focused around some sort of official launch.
In fifteen years progress has been slow. Whilst there have been a number of railway vehicles acquired during this time frame, the construction of their key building has been quite gradual. The building is to be a roundhouse, and so far what has been completed is the turntable and the track leading into it.
When I started in rail heritage in the 1980s (which I eventually exited from around the same 2003) there was a lot more going for the various groups in terms of resources, because we lived in a different kind of society where people had more free time and money to give to these groups. The situation is now very different and the various groups find they have to work together a lot more, and some have folded up. Against that reality it’s very hard for a new group to be formed and established. The other key factor which has changed a lot is the structure of the national railway network which has been through a process of corporatisation, privatisation and nationalisation. The extent to which the national network has been able to support rail heritage has changed vastly in that time, and is currently a fraction of what it used to be.
The key problems I see for the NRM are as follows:
  • It’s on the Ferrymead site yet it is a separate organisation
  • It is a self established group rather than being a national initiative
  • It competes for funds and resources with every other rail heritage group in NZ rather than cooperating with them.
Being on the Ferrymead site will bring competition with every other Ferrymead society and the way it is set up is to be completely independent from even the Ferrymead Railway to which its track connects. As well, they now have a bus in their collection, which brings them into competition with two other groups at Ferrymead which preserve buses.
It can’t be denied that when you are in competition with other established groups on the same site that you are all competing for members time, members funds and external funding sources.  The nature of the NRM is that they are completely separate from the Ferrymead Railway, with their own collection that they have acquired independently of that group. Whereas, it may have made more sense for them to be a subcommittee of the Ferrymead Railway and simply borrowing some of their existing vast collection of rolling stock.
Also being at Ferrymead sets them up to be in competition with other rail heritage sites in NZ, most of which are openly or not so openly competing against each other and it’s doubtful there will be much support from rail heritage groups in other centres, such is the nature of rail heritage that there is nowhere near as much cooperation as there should or could be. Many of these groups will view the NRM as another group like them rather than being something they should support as a national initiative. The politics of being at Ferrymead, which tends to come across as a grandiose pretentious organisation due to their existence at a nationally significant site, will count majorly against them.
I think that the best future for the NRM would be as a branch of Rail Heritage Trust and established around New Zealand with the rolling stock and exhibits at a number of sites rather than being in one single place, thus being able to attract more widespread support. In my view RHTNZ has achieved much more in creating a national railway heritage collection and initiatives around NZ than NRM has achieved to date, and they have also been able to source additional funding support which NRM would not be able to access.
If on the other hand NRM chooses to stay at Ferrymead then they should merge with the Ferrymead Railway and focus on being a branch of that institution rather than duplicating everything which they are doing at the moment and therefore competing with them for resources.
This post is not part of any regular diversion from the core purposes of NZ Rail Maps and I do not expect to be commenting on this type of non-core topic more than once a year at this stage.