Journal of Transport History (ISSN 0022-5266) Volume 26 no.1 March 2005
© 2005 Manchester University Press
Museum reviews (page 112)
Mueso Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, 11 Norte 1005 esq. 10 Poniente, Centro Histórico, Puebla, Puebla CP 72000, México. Phone + 52 222 232 4988 or 246 0395, e-mail email@example.com, Web site azteca.conaculta.gob.mx/museo/
The city of
The MNFM opened to the public in 1988, its aim being ‘to guarantee the rescue, safe keeping, study and communication of the national heritage, cultural and artistic, generated by the Mexican railways in the course of their 150 years’ history’. At its core lies a valuable collection of locomotives and rolling stock. The museum also holds tools, equipment, a small number of artefacts associated with railways, and a research centre, which includes a specialized library, assorted records, photographs, films, diagrams, maps and technical drawings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in a collection that comprises more than 40,000 items, chiefly books and magazines.
A large quantity of the pieces in
the MNFM’s collection were gathered in Puebla from different parts of the
country, especially from Aguascalientes, which, 537 km north-west of Mexico
City, was considered too distant from the capital, regarded by many at the
country’s ‘centre’, to host a national museum.
The NMFM consists of a huge outdoors area, a principal building which holds permanent and temporary displays in a number of small rooms, and the research centre. Entry is free, as is the car park; there are no shop or refreshment facilities, no brochures and very little in respect of labels or signs throughout the museum. The wardens are friendly but unfortunately cannot act as guides, although they are happy to answer questions. In recent years efforts have been made to liven up the museum, and to widen its scope; it has a children’s coach and a ‘science wagon’, aimed at primary school students; it hosts concerts and workshops, and it is a favoured venue for editorial presentations and conferences.
The main permanent exhibition is composed of artefacts and memorabilia, arranged in cabinets and bearing succinct notes that show only the names of donors and/or the collection of which they are part. Evidently the exhibitors consider that the objects are self-explanatory, and visitors are forced to draw their own conclusions. The largest of the halls is dedicated to temporary exhibitions, not always directly related to railways and thus rather out of context, a situation made worse by the inadequacy of pointers and background information.
The outdoor displays are the most
interesting part of the museum. There,
spacious and quiet surroundings, and amazing views of the snowy mountains, make
up in some degree for the lack of context and information. With room to move about – although the NMFM
is not a popular attraction, so there is little need to elude crowds – visitors
are able to examine the pieces at their leisure and enter several coaches that
have been restored to show various aspects of railway transport. Especially attractive are a complete presidential
train of the 1940s and a mail carriage that was still in use in the early
1990s. As to locomotives, there are
several steam, diesel and electric examples.
Most date from the first three decades of the twentieth century, and the
vast majority are of American manufacture – not unexpectedly, given that
country’s strong influence on Mexican railways.
There is, however, one steam locomotive that was entirely made in
On the whole, the Mexicanness of the
railways is underlined, if anything, and references to foreign influences are
toned down. (The casual visitor is
unlikely to pick up on the significance of the foreign origin of many of the
large objects.) There are no allusions
to the role that railways had, and still have, in many parts of the world, that
would allow visitors to think of the Mexican case in a wider context. There is also a sense that
Samantha Álvarez Institute of Railway Studies and Transport
Transcribed by R. Todd Minsk, July 2005