Scottish Railway Museum

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:03 pm on 4th February 2010.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:03 pm, 4th February 2010

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5490, in the name of Christopher Harvie, on the Scottish railway museum at Bo'ness. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament pays tribute to the Scottish Railway Museum at Bo'ness, one of Europe's major transport collections and a leading Scottish tourist attraction, and to its founder, the late John Burnie, and also commends John Burnie's ambition to see the Scottish Railway Museum play its part in inspiring and training the new generation of engineers needed for infrastructure and manufacturing in the entire Forth basin.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 5:05 pm, 4th February 2010

If I cast my mind back—to longer ago than I care to do—I recall being in the big classical building that used to stand outside Glasgow Queen Street station, which was, regrettably, smashed a few years later, and hearing someone remark, "This place looks like a museum." They were looking at the booking office, where one could still get tickets in a paper wrapper that was printed in 1842, for the opening of the first Edinburgh to Glasgow railway. They were beautiful, standard Edmondson card tickets that were just ready to be issued—someone could have been conned into believing that it was possible to travel to Edinburgh with one of them, but they came from a railway that had not been a railway in Scotland for more than 100 years.

The tickets that I have described were one of the things that those of us who set up the Scottish Railway Preservation Society in 1961 happened across. To some extent, the railway was itself a museum piece. Its Victorian infrastructure had survived, largely because of the disruption of the two world wars. In the first, the heavy industries of the Clyde valley, adapted to munitions production, shifted the balance of the war of attrition on the western front in favour of the allies—something about which the Kaiser had not really thought. However, the result was that in the 1920s the Scots economy collapsed; it stayed depressed until the rearmament programme after 1935. As a result, in the 1950s much of the railway system still looked as it had in 1914, with the same engines, the same stations, the same carriages and the same delivery of coal and general freight to hundreds of traditional goods stations all over the country. By 1970, little of that remarkable heritage survived. For many of us, it was everywhere in danger; that is why the SRPS was founded in 1961.

We were finding our way, and some us had a steep learning curve, not least because we were not engineers by training. That changed when John Burnie—whose death we mourn, along with his wife Ann and his family—turned up from Strathclyde University, just on time. From the start, John concentrated on a different sort of preservation from other schemes, which were mainly about getting railway lines functioning—he wanted to give a picture of the transport system that was embedded in the history of Scotland's industrialisation and urbanisation. Visitors to Bo'ness station, which was more or less a hole in the ground in 1970, get to see the coaches, wagons, pug engines, tanks, stations, bothies and sheds; 75,000 people visit every year.

For nearly the next half century, during which John Burnie headed up the Bo'ness project, Scotland's manufacturing capability tended to dwindle. Much inventiveness, skill and talent was literally offshored to the North Sea and, later, to other rigs in other oceans. As a result, our production of engineers declined to the point at which we now produce only about a fifth of the technologists produced by the German economy—I tend to cite that example, but I stayed there for 30 years. Even in sophisticated industrial societies, most technical instruction is bound to the workplace. As workplaces have closed down, competence has gone with them. Ron Hill, one of the stalwarts of the SRPS at Bo'ness, says that when he joined Motherwell College in the 1970s it had 170 lecturers in mechanical engineering; the number is now down to single figures.

In contemporary Scotland, we have a past that we ought to treasure and maintain, because it is the structure of the industry that created us and the way in which we live now. The great promise of financial services and housing booms has been evanescent in comparison. Now, we need wind, wave and current generators and carbon capture schemes—in fact John Burnie was shift manager at Longannet power station, which has become our centre for that technology. In conversations with John over the past year, he told me about his thoughts that Bo'ness's contribution to engineering and education could be balanced by building workshops that preserve the museum stock but enable people to be trained under practical conditions.

We will have to go back to the era of heavy engineering, not least that of the expansion of the Scottish railway system. That is important, because we need low-carbon transportation systems. Within 15 or 20 years at most, we will have hit peak oil and will possibly be coping with oil prices of anything up to $300 a barrel. Remember that, in the 1970s, they were practically giving it away free. Oil everywhere is running out and becoming harder to exploit. Many of our hopes for new and renewable energy industries are clustered in the Forth industrial basin, from Grangemouth to Leven. Bo'ness, in the middle of it, could be a training centre linked with Scottish universities and colleges to provide an important impulse for retechnologising the Forth basin.

Bo'ness museum would benefit from some tender loving care from the Scottish Government. I have certain reactions when I hear about large paintings belonging to an aristocrat who is possibly not best known for favouring Scottish crofters in the past being bought for several million pounds, when we would budget about 400 quid to get a coach. The first cheque that I signed was for the royal saloon of the Great North of Scotland Railway, which Edward VII would use to take his lady friends for runs into the country—"Darling, I think we've run out of steam." The fact that it costs £400 for a royal saloon gives a sense of proportion.

I also make a miniature plea. Recently, I discovered in the Beveridge park in Fife a little-used but still usable miniature railway. The SRPS could go into partnership with local schools to get kids interested in practical engineering by running their own railway. God knows what health and safety would say but, nonetheless, that could be tried. Oddly enough, I have just the man for that—a retired Black Watch officer who taught me how to drive a steam engine, which I never knew how to do until about three years ago. He has a splendid steam engine called—what else?—Black Watch. It would be good if the SRPS moved in and expanded the tourist industry around the Forth, as it is doing with its circular trains.

We will live somewhat different lives in future. We will have to be more dependent on the localities where we live. We will need to keep them accessible and have places for family excursions and holidays. Our railway heritage can help with that. It can also generate a lot of local technology input and output. The preservation movement is a way of making the transition efficient and enjoyable. So, John Burnie, thanks.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 5:13 pm, 4th February 2010

I thank the dozens of members who signed the motions that have been lodged on John Burnie and the Bo'ness railway museum. I congratulate Chris Harvie on securing the debate and thank him for the opportunity to highlight John Burnie's contribution and legacy, and the potential for development that he sought for the museum.

I met John soon after being elected and we continued to meet regularly. Subsequently, I persuaded the previous culture minister to come and see for himself the national treasure in Bo'ness. John Burnie's passion shone through and he won people over with his vision. His enthusiasm rubbed off on those around him and drew people of all ages into the projects that he supported.

As Chris Harvie has told us, John was an active volunteer in the early days of the SRPS, when it was based in a disused transit shed in Grahamston. Indeed, I visited there with my family—it seems a long time ago. He was also instrumental in the decision to move to Bo'ness, the subsequent construction of the branch line, and the creation of the museum as a centre for our railway engineering heritage.

John had ambitious plans, but he was always very realistic and practical. I am sure that he would have continued to drive forward the development of the railway and the museum, and there can be no more fitting legacy than ensuring that his vision becomes a reality. The Bo'ness museum complements that of York as an exhibition, but the Bo'ness collection surpasses York in the range of its industrial locomotives and other exhibits.

John wanted the Bo'ness museum to be recognised as a Scottish national museum. Historically, industrial museums have tended to be less valued than their counterparts, particularly when they rely heavily on volunteers rather than paid staff. I therefore welcome the think-tank that Mike Russell set up to look at museum funding. I hope that it will create a level playing field for all museums. I would be grateful if the minister could tell us what progress the think-tank has made and when it is expected to report.

John Burnie sought to establish a training school to develop a new generation of engineers. That would need capital and revenue investment, but I am sure that it would be money well spent.

The railway has achieved year-on-year growth in visitor numbers. The revenue from that covers the basic operation, but there are obstacles to be overcome if the activities are to be expanded. There is a need for more accommodation to protect projects and exhibits from the ravages of the weather, and there are costs in maintaining eight A-listed buildings. Better facilities and more modern workshops are needed, while support is required for volunteering within the museum, to encourage younger folk to get involved and sustain the number of committed volunteers. I seek assurance that the think-tank will consider those issues, raised by John Burnie and his colleagues, and take them fully on board in any recommendations.

Following a meeting last summer with John Burnie and other SRPS committee members, I agreed to sponsor the recent exhibition by the railway museum. I also agreed to lodge a motion for debate. Sadly, this is not the kind of debate that we envisaged. John Hume, who chaired the SRPS for a number of years, told me that John Burnie was a thoroughly good man, and I know that members in the chamber and visitors in the public gallery would agree.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative 5:18 pm, 4th February 2010

In introducing my brief contribution, I will explain why I am standing here tonight. I have admired Mr Harvie in the years that I have been in the Parliament. He is an independent thinker, which sometimes makes him a slightly uncomfortable commodity to those who sit several rows in front of him. He also has a reputation for being what some time ago we used to call a snappy dresser.

For those reasons, when I saw the motion that Mr Harvie had lodged, as someone who comes from a career in the transport industry I had a certain sympathy with it. I thought that it seemed like a worthwhile motion and therefore I lent it my support. Somewhat to my astonishment, David McLetchie thought that that meant I was eminently qualified to contribute to the debate, but I admit that I have never visited the museum—although I can assure members that my peroration will be a commitment on my behalf that my family and I will do so.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

If the member has never visited, he should please be my guest and come to Bo'ness.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Cathy Peattie can rest assured that that is the point on which I will conclude.

I have a tremendous empathy with the concept of industrial museums, which Cathy Peattie talked about, and museums related to the transport industry. My background is in the motor retail industry, and our business was very keen and happy to renovate derelict vehicles that were recovered, many of which have gone into community museums. As I travel round the United Kingdom as a tourist, I often visit those local museums, because they are a worthwhile source of tourism. They invariably have a tremendous appeal to children in particular, who get quite caught up in the romance of the subject. They are a vital local asset in relation to bringing in tourism.

I thought that the romance of the train could now be celebrated only by doing something slightly more expensive. I have to say that I forked out for a trip on the Orient Express. One might say that the journey was typical of railways, in the sense that there was a strike at the French end, which meant that we were hopelessly delayed. It also meant that, in order to catch up, the train had to travel at such a speed that it was impossible both to eat the meal and—as I discovered subsequently—to stay in the bunk during the evening. My wife was also somewhat distressed to discover when she was getting dressed the next morning that we had pulled into a busy commuter station somewhere in the Alps, where everyone was viewing whatever it was that she was engaged in at that moment.

I now realise that our money need not have been spent in that way. In the Bo'ness museum and line, we have an enterprise that has been conceived to capture the spirit and romance of not just a stationary carriage but the infrastructure—the stations, sheds, bridges and everything that people associate with the romance of rail.

I read with interest that the Birkhill end has as its station a building that I will look forward to seeing again as it featured in the garden exhibition that was held in Glasgow in 1988. In preparing, briefly, for tonight's debate, I asked how all that came about and what was its inspiration. Invariably, whenever I have visited such museums, I have found that what has been achieved has been down to local enthusiasts and one enthusiast in particular. It is clear that John Burnie was an inspiration—a lifetime devotee who was committed to the whole atmosphere and spirit of rail—and that it was he who made such a valuable contribution and produced such a legacy. Although I did not know him, I can see that he has been taken from that prematurely. I hope that the legacy that he created will survive.

I am enthused by what I have read. Tonight's debate has persuaded one weegie, who now lives on the west coast, to make the journey through to visit the museum. However, I am not terribly sure that the day out with Thomas is the thing that attracts me. A nice swanky evening dinner cruise along the line would appeal most; if the museum could conceive of such a thing, I would be more than happy to support it in that way. I wish the project, the line and Christopher Harvie's motion every success.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party 5:22 pm, 4th February 2010

I think that we have learned a little too much about Jackson Carlaw's holiday experience and I am sure that his wife will thank him for passing on the full details.

I congratulate Christopher Harvie on lodging his motion for debate this evening. I cannot boast his intricate knowledge of trains—it is clear that, as ever, he has an enthusiasm for the subject matter.

I should probably begin with a confession similar to Jackson Carlaw's: I have, shamefully, not visited the museum, although I am sure Cathy Peattie will be relieved to know that I have visited Bo'ness many times.

The Scottish railway museum in Bo'ness is an important tourist attraction in the Central Scotland region, which I represent. The Bo'ness and Kinneil railway, which has been developed since 1979, and the museum play an important part in preserving our country's rail heritage. I always note with some sadness that too much of Scotland's railways now have heritage status. The savage Beeching cuts decimated our rail network. I should of course point out that that was way before my time, although I am sure Professor Harvie recalls it well.

It is ironic that much of the Bo'ness and Kinneil line and museum are on a line that was closed so many years ago. It would be fantastic if Bo'ness still had a station on the wider rail network. However, that is not the case and it is right that the line can be utilised by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society today.

The society's efforts extend much further than the Bo'ness and Kinneil railway; it has the Scottish railway exhibition, which was opened in 1995 in a purpose-built, 15,000ft2 exhibition hall beside Bo'ness station. I was intrigued to learn that it has built an extension, which seems to be through co-operative work with institutions such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European regional development fund, Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley and others. That type of joint working is to be commended.

It is important to talk about some of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society's work with the local community. I was heartened to learn that the society seeks to work with the local authorities, community planning partnerships, local business community groups and representatives of other visitor attractions to create initiatives to raise the profile of the town of Bo'ness and the Falkirk local authority area. The society encourages people to come to the area and visit other tourist attractions, and it has been playing its part in the regeneration of the town of Bo'ness. It is clear that a lot of good work is going on at the museum and the society, and they are to be congratulated.

The motion refers to John Burnie. I cannot profess to have known Mr Burnie, but the regard in which he was held was quite clear when I welcomed his family to the Parliament today. I am sure that the Scottish railway museum's work will continue as testament to his devotion. Like Jackson Carlaw, I look forward to visiting the museum some time in the future.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 5:26 pm, 4th February 2010

I was fortunate to be guided by Mr Burnie on my tour of the museum. As was clear from his enthusiasm, he felt that the museum's role should be of national significance.

If we consider the history of the industrial revolution as it manifested itself in Scotland, we can see the role of the communities along the Forth—in shale oil, and in the transition from shale oil to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and then British Petroleum—in the development of mechanical engineering, to which Professor Harvie referred. The significant role of communities right along the Forth estuary is worthy of more note than it often gets. All too often, the communities where I am originally from—Glasgow and Lanarkshire—are those that one associates more strongly with the heavy industries.

I give credit to Professor Harvie for mentioning mechanical engineering. A young friend of mine who was working in Grangemouth has recently been requested to work in the oil industry in Angola—not as an oil or petroleum expert, but as a mechanical engineer. People from the community around the Forth are still exporting their skills.

We often talk about Scotland being a small village in many ways. The family of the father-in-law of my previous employer, Donald Gorrie, a former member of this place, were Reids. Some members will remember the St Rollox railway construction sites in Springburn. The Reids contributed hugely before the nationalisation of the railway industries. Some of the old locomotives in the Bo'ness museum were constructed by the Reids, who demonstrated huge largesse towards the local communities in the Victorian and Edwardian tradition. There are statues to them, the land that Stobhill hospital sits on was donated by them and much of their work is reflected in the artefacts that are currently in Bo'ness. I recommend the trip to Jamie Hepburn and Jackson Carlaw.

There is less opportunity for the Orient Express now—my understanding is that that trip has now been closed down, for which Mr Carlaw's wife may be eternally grateful.

On a more serious note, and as Cathy Peattie said, we must have greater respect for the industrial museums; many of the things that we now benefit from in modern Scotland have their foundation rooted in heavy industry. Much of that heavy industry has gone, but we need to maintain the skills and expertise that was grounded in it. I think back to the terrible destruction of York minster years ago, after which we had to bring in expertise that we once grew ourselves. We must keep mechanical expertise alive.

If the huge amount of work that is needed to put together the locomotives in the museum that are still in bits and pieces is anything to go by, our mechanical engineers will have a lifetime's work ahead of them. We need to maintain those skills, perhaps through apprenticeships and community service schemes—I encourage the think-tank to which Cathy Peattie referred to consider such issues. I look forward to continued support from the Scottish Government for the museum's growth and development.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:30 pm, 4th February 2010

As a child I was passionate about trains. When I was seven, I travelled by steam train from Thurso to Portsmouth—I have only a dim recollection of the journey. In Kenya I have travelled on trains drawn by steam locomotives that were made in Glasgow. In India I visited an open-air museum and travelled on trains. They were not drawn by engines made in Glasgow—people have mainly turned to diesel—but the museum, which is huge, contains many engines that were made in Glasgow. I think that even to this day there are working engines in South America that were made in Glasgow. We have a tremendous engineering history in Scotland, and any effort to preserve that history that can be made by railway preservation organisations, in particular the Scottish Railway Preservation Society at Bo'ness, is of immense value.

The Scottish railway museum at Bo'ness also preserves the memory of how our railways can be, should be and were run. I am dying to try out the dinner service, which might remind me of the standard of service that we used to get from the late lamented Great North Eastern Railway on trips between Edinburgh and London. It was a pleasure to travel on those trains, if one had enough money to buy the meal—it was not too expensive and it was well worth it.

There is something about travel for travel's sake, when we enjoy the journey; it is not just about getting from one place to another in a fast car, gripping the steering wheel, cursing the traffic as we go and arriving so exhausted that we have not gained anything because the train would have left us better able to start work as soon as we arrived.

The Bo'ness museum reminds us of the days when we were passengers, not customers, and staff were called "drivers", "guards" and "ticket collectors", not the peculiar names they are given nowadays. There was an immense standard of service. It is so refreshing to be reminded of that. Despite my passion, I regret that have been to Bo'ness only once. That was last year, so the memory is vivid. I arrived too late to get on the train, so I went to Blackness castle—the museum should offer a double ticket, because Blackness is wonderful; it is entrancing, incredibly interesting, in very good condition and very well presented. I got back to the station in time to stand on the bridge and get that blast of smoke as the train came in. Steam engines seem to be alive; we can feel them breathing, straining and bursting with steam and energy. There is something completely different about a steam engine, compared with any other engine that I know of.

I am honoured to stand up in memory of John Burnie and to pay tribute to the Scottish Railway Preservation Society and the work at Bo'ness. I wish the society well and I promise that I will visit Bo'ness again. I will also engage in any conversations that take place with a view to pushing forward railway preservation in Scotland.

I will conclude by telling members about a wonderful moment. Four years ago I was asked to flag off the Jacobite at the beginning of the tourist season. Here was this huge black engine, waiting and puffing out steam—psht! psht! I was given a guard's cap and a green flag and after I flagged the train off I leaped into a carriage and went up to Mallaig and back. I thoroughly recommend the trip.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 5:35 pm, 4th February 2010

First, I congratulate Christopher Harvie on securing the debate. In doing so, I also pay tribute to the late John Burnie. Members have set out the achievements and contribution of that remarkable man.

Members might be aware that the Scottish Government's recognition scheme is designed to celebrate, promote and invest in nationally significant museum and gallery collections around Scotland that are held outside the nationally run institutions. The Scottish Railway Preservation Society achieved that recognised status in 2007 for its core collection, and the project to have the collection recognised was of course led by one John Burnie.

The recognition scheme is designed to be flexible, to channel capital and revenue funding to important collections such as that successfully developed by John Burnie and the Scottish Railway Preservation Society. For the first time, the Scottish Government, through Museums Galleries Scotland, has a structured mechanism to fund nationally important collections at a local level and to demonstrate and evidence their importance in the international context. The Government provided £1.2 million in revenue funding for the scheme to enable the recognised collections to develop and to increase their impact. In January, I had the pleasure of announcing an additional £750,000 in capital funding for the scheme for 2009-10, and I plan to announce the successful projects in March.

I am aware that one of John Burnie's ambitions was the creation of new workshops and apprenticeships with a view to rebuilding the industry that existed when he was a child, and the Scottish Government shares that vision. In 2009, we had the first ever apprenticeship summit, which was undertaken through the Scottish Government's six-point economic recovery plan to help individuals to get through the downturn. Part of the money for that plan was reserved for apprenticeships. Only last month, we announced an additional £4 million to help businesses across Scotland to take on new apprentices. That is part of ScotAction, which is an integrated package of new and improved measures to help individuals and businesses through the recession. It is important to relate that to the new industries that Hugh O'Donnell and Christopher Harvie talked about, because through the recession we need to develop engineering for the renewable energy industry and to build on the skills, experience and practice that those workshops can provide. A bit of joined-up thinking might enable something for the future to be built on the experience of the past.

We should also acknowledge the involvement of the many enthusiastic volunteers who are instrumental in the maintenance of the collection. The society has about 350 active volunteers, some of whom are from the railway industry. I met a delegation to the Parliament a few weeks ago, and I was amazed at the phenomenal skill level and amount of experience among the volunteers. The flow goes two ways. Several of the younger volunteers subsequently found new careers with Network Rail, First ScotRail and other train operating companies, which is testament to the role that the society can play in developing skills and expertise.

John Burnie has left the Scottish Railway Preservation Society as a forward-looking and healthy organisation. It has enjoyed a period of growth in visitor numbers during the past six years—2009 saw a record 70,565 visitors. The impact of those figures cannot be overestimated. The Bo'ness museum is a beacon for rail enthusiasts, and the passion with which Robin Harper delivered his speech shows how infectious enthusiasm for the railways can be. However, the museum also attracts the wider public who are interested in experiencing the world of the railway. I look forward to visiting the museum in my new capacity as minister.

In 2006, the National Museums Directors Conference and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council jointly commissioned a report that analysed the impact of a number of British museums and galleries. We have some of the best museums and galleries in the world. No other country has such a powerful group of them within a relatively small space. The annual turnover of the major museums and galleries exceeds £900 million, and a report commissioned by Museums Galleries Scotland identifies that the sector in Scotland is estimated to generate £78 million in direct and £44 million in indirect revenues, with another £600 million coming into the economy via other impacts. That is business for the economy.

Our museums and collections are very much part and parcel of our visitor and tourist attractions. We have more than 25 million visitors a year—a figure that increased by 24 per cent between 2003 and 2007—and 47 per cent of them are tourists. Museums and galleries are a significant factor in attracting visitors to Scotland, but they need to develop if they are to continue to compete against institutions that are developing in other countries.

Cathy Peattie referred to the museums think-tank, which was established after the museums summit in June last year and whose members represent the museums and galleries sector. It is examining difficulties and opportunities that the sector faces. I very much appreciate its work and I will assist in the development of a national policy for the sector. Just a few weeks ago, I chaired the think-tank's most recent meeting, at which we agreed to consider how to develop our industrial heritage. The SRPS will have a role in that—I gave that commitment to the delegation who visited the Parliament a few weeks ago.

I am sure that John Burnie's family are especially proud of his achievements. I am grateful that we in the Scottish Parliament have had the opportunity today to pay tribute to him and to acknowledge the unique role that he played in the Scottish Railway Preservation Society's development. Scotland is a better place because of him. Our heritage, culture and opportunities for the future based on the experience of the past have been well served by him and by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society as a whole.

Meeting closed at 17:41.