The London Transport Museum – a brief introduction to my favourite museum in London!

Estimated time to read this article: 5 minutes

In this post, I’m going to write a bit about one of my favourite places to visit as a child, and why I still think it’s awesome at the age of 28!

The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, London is run by a subsidiary of Transport for London, and charts the past, present and future of London’s transport. It’s probably best known for two things – the heritage vehicles on display and its Tube driving simulators – but there’s a whole lot more to it than that, and TfL have done really well with what is actually quite a small exhibition space.

The main exhibition floor (click to enlarge)

Whilst you can visit the exhibits in any order, if following the signage you’re taken to the top floor first, which gives an introduction to the history of transport pre-1900s – you then work your way down to the ground floor which has the main full-size exhibits – you can see a few of these in the photo above. There’s a range of heritage vehicles including trams, trolleybuses and Routemaster buses, I’ll just highlight a couple of my favourites here.

London Trolleybus (entered service 1939, withdrawn 1961)

As a mode of transport that all but died out 30 years before I was born, I find trolleybuses fascinating – essentially a cross between buses and trams (runs on tyres rather than rails, but getting power from tram-style overhead power lines), they were replaced when electric motors made ordinary buses more economical to run (and more flexible).  You can read more on the technical specifications of the vehicle here (another thing I like about LTM, their website has a page with further details on each of the vehicles on show!)

1938 Tube Stock carriage (entered service 1940, withdrawn 1978)

1938 tube stock

The Museum have a preserved 1938 Tube stock carriage, which operated on the Northern line for almost 40 years from 1940 to 1978 – it’s a real workhorse of the Underground that has stood the test of time, and if you go to the Isle of Wight, you can still see these in service on Island Line between Ryde and Shanklin.

The carriage retained by the Museum has been kept in excellent condition, complete with period adverts!

(Per the trolleybus above, LTM does have an excellent page on the 1938 stock car on display in the Museum – I only discovered these quite recently, it’s something the Museum could make more of I think, perhaps with QR codes next to each vehicle or similar?)

Simulators

1996 tube stock (Jubilee line) simulator (unfortunately I don’t have a decent photo myself of the simulator as it’s hardly ever not in use! Image from Wikimedia Commons)

As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the most popular exhibits at the London Transport Museum are the simulators – there are 3 different simulator types – one heritage simulator for the 1938 Tube stock with separate power/brake levers, and two for the more modern Jubilee/Northern line stock, both of which use a combined power/brake lever. These are always really popular, especially with younger visitors! One interesting/geeky point here is that the simulators the Museum use are built entirely on open-source software called OpenBVE, and you can download the routes to your own computer free of charge if you fancy having a go at driving yourself – for example the Northern line is available here.

Crossrail and the future

Elizabeth line roundel

Model of the Crossrail tunnel boring machine

As well as all the heritage exhibits the Museum has, they’ve also got a recently updated section dedicated to the Crossrail project, and a new permanent exhibition relating to tunnels interlinked with this. Whilst small, I was particularly impressed with the tunnels exhibition – a very well produced video on this history of boring tunnels (as in creating them, not tunnels with nothing interesting in!), and a model of a tunnel boring machine of the type used by Crossrail were my standout highlights.

Shop

Every museum tends to have a shop and LTM is no exception! However, it’s worth a particular mention as, alongside all the souvenirs available downstairs, there’s what must be one of London’s largest collections of transport-interest books upstairs, along with a large selection of posters.

Events

Finally, I just want to touch on the Museum’s events, particularly their Late Debate evenings where they open temporary bars within the main exhibition space, and also have a load of adult-targeted talk and activities (there’s a 90-seat theatre in the basement level of the Museum too where the main talks are held). I attended their Technology and the Future one last November and it was simply fantastic with the highlight being a talk by Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, who are the pair behind All The Stations – a project to document a trip round the UK calling at every single station, which they successfully completed last summer! (I understand a feature length documentary is being made off the back of it, and if you want to watch their videos that they made during the trip you can do so here – highly recommended!)

Visiting!

I hope this article gives you a brief insight into why I think the London Transport Museum is such a fantastic resource, and there’s so much more I haven’t mentioned here too – if you want to pay it a visit, it’s located in Covent Garden (5 minutes walk from Covent Garden tube station) – you can find more information, plus details of special events, at http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk

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