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From prehistory to the genesis of the Museum

The genesis of the Railway Museum of Catalonia dates back to 1972. Part of an initiative of the Association of Friends of the Railway of Barcelona, following the celebration of the XIX Congress of European Railway Modelers (MOROP) for this reason it was decided to gather in Vilanova a wide exhibition of steam locomotives.

The reason for choosing the capital of Garraf was the existence of an old locomotive depot that had stopped working in 1967 and that allowed to have a rotating bridge, water tanks and a roundabout to store the machines. The Vilanovinas Facilities had great activity from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the XXI, being a fact that they attracted railway employees from all over the state to this city, which came to have employees to more than 900 professionals. Without a doubt, the railway marked the contemporary history of the population.

Once the initiative to make an exhibition on the tracks of the Vilanova railway complex was approved, Renfe moved vehicles from different places on the peninsula for exhibition in the city. After the International Congress, most of this material would be parked, being the embryo of the future museum that would still take time to materialize.

In 1981, coinciding with the centenary of the line from Barcelona to Vilanova and La Geltrú, Renfe and the Generalitat promoted the creation in Catalonia of a railway museum with a shared management model. After the signing of a first collaboration agreement, which would later be joined by the City Council of Vilanova and Geltrú, the distribution of the necessary actions for the opening of the Museum is agreed. The Generalitat rehabilitated the building of the Rotunda and convened an architectural study of ideas for the integral intervention that would transform a steam locomotive depot into a true cultural equipment, a contest that would not be resolved because the initial purpose of participatory management ended up being truncated. For its part, Renfe restored the vehicles with the collaboration of a municipal school-workshop and incorporated the commissary building, which was in disuse, as a reception and services space.

The Museum opened its doors on August 3, 1990 by the will of the City Council and Renfe, but without a global intervention plan, nor an organization, nor a fund that would turn the old warehouse and the service building into a real Museum. The key factor that made possible its evolution and development in the early years was the passion, tenacity, generosity and drive of different people and experts in the railway world. From 1993, when Renfe passed the management to the cultural foundation specialized in the railway, its operation began to be professionalized.

Renfe in 1993 entrusted the management to the Spanish Railways Foundation. It was from that year when the existence of the Museum as such was formalized, assigning some first economic and human resources, setting opening hours to the public, prices, an operating protocol, a first inventory and the creation of the audio-visual "Climb the train of history" that won the international Laus award for excellence in audio-visual communication.

From 150th anniversary to 2008

In 1998, the 150th anniversary of the Barcelona-Mataró front line was celebrated and the Foundation considered the commemoration as the opportunity to also give a boost to the Museum. From the following year, a new program of exhibitions and activities is established for different audiences, especially for the school. It is also when the Great Nave, built in the origins of the Vilanova railway (1881), is definitively incorporated into the Museum. In 1999, it was registered in the Register of Museums of the Generalitat of Catalonia with the number 114.

In the following ten years, a sustained work of consolidation of the equipment as a dynamic space at the service of society and the establishment of external links is carried out, as well as preservation and heritage documentation and architectural rehabilitation. Different areas were created in the commissary building, such as the library-newspaper library, the archive and the reserve.

It was in this period when two historic buildings were rehabilitated and recovered: the old warehouse of the supply workshop, such as Espacio Siglo XXI (2000), and one of the water tanks, such as Espacio Gumà (2006). In the same way, the infrastructure would be increased with three new roads to be able to grow and increase the number of preserved vehicles. Sixteen vehicles were added to the initial collection, among other heritage elements; ten walkways would be built or adapted for the visit to the material. The Vall de Núria Park was installed outside, a gift from FGC on the 75th anniversary of the Cremallera; and the great mural of the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs created for the Sants station was transported. In terms of restorations, there were more than 25 interventions in historical rolling stock until 2008.

Despite the actions carried out in this period in different areas (educational, communication, conservation, documentation ...) the essential investments to convert the facilities of the old warehouse into a true accessible and modern museum were still pending.

The energy of collaboration

After these years of progress, it is during the economic crisis when the turning point occurs. The decisive cooperation in the project of a number of people and the institutions they represented made it possible to channel the future Museum. In the following link, you can consult the organizations that collaborate in making possible the dream of promoting a museum of the railway of the XXI century.

In 2007, the director of the Territorial System of the mNACTEC, Eusebi Casanelles, granted a grant from the Generalitat of € 30,000 for the preparation of a comprehensive draft. The collaboration of the heritage area of the ADIF, as head of the institutions, allowed making a Master Plan to convert the historic railway complex into a real Museum. The architect José Ramón Pastor, responsible for the rehabilitation of the Estación de Francia, was the one who, on behalf of Adif, directed all the projects and works of the following years that the architect, Jordi Roig, executed.

In the same period, the “vilanoví” deputy in the Congress of Deputies, Carles Campuzano, after a visit to the Museum in which he detects the potential of this asset of the territory, presents an amendment to the General State Budgets from which he would derive a contribution of € 450,000 in 2009 and the same amount in 2010. The € 900,000 allowed emergency rehabilitations in two of the most emblematic and deteriorated buildings: the Bridge-Crane Shed and the Rotunda, as well as the realization of two executive projects to be able to continue in the future the interventions.

The 2010 agreement between the City Council of Vilanova and La Geltrú, the Foundation of the Spanish Railways, Railways of the Generalitat of Catalonia (FGC) and the Museum of Science and Technology of Catalonia (mNACTEC) was an agreement reminiscent of the first one signed in the eighties. Although without incorporating two fundamental aspects: shared management and economic commitment, it was a public show of willingness to collaborate for the promotion and development of the future Railway Museum.

In the following years, the works of the Ministry of Development were executed, keeping the Museum open. The result was a steady growth of visitors, most notably since 2013, despite the complex economic context and the general decrease in audiences of most museums.

In the climate of cooperation established at the end of the first decade of the XXI century, the same year 2013 an Agreement was signed between the Foundation and the City Council for the shared use of the Bridge-Crane Ship until 2019. An innovative and pioneering agreement in the country's museums that meant a remarkable municipal investment in the oldest and most unique Nave of the Museum and the opportunity to be used by opening it to the city.

Two milestones have just boosted the Museum's educational vocation. On the one hand, the start of the Master's Degree in Railway and Electric Traction Systems of the Campus of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Vilanova i la Geltrú, made possible by the close cooperation of the UPC with the Foundation and the Museum. A postgraduate course was a decisive step for the educational capital of the railway in Catalonia. In fact, three years later also in Vilanova would begin to be taught for the first time in Spain an average degree of dual professional training in maintenance of railway vehicles. With these studies, the capital of Garraf is positioned as the first training center for professionals in the railway sector in Catalonia. The educational task of the Museum with the support of the Municipal Institute of Education of Barcelona and Vilanova or with the Garraf Pedagogical Resource Center has contributed decisively to the knowledge of the railway system.

It will also be in this period when the creation of the collective of volunteers of the Museum is consolidated, a proposal that had been years in the making. A small group of railway retirees began collaborating on restoration work in 2006. The gradual incorporation of people (not always originally linked in the world of trains) for activities of documentation, dissemination or attention to visitors, would lead to the constitution in 2009 of the Association of Partners and Collaborators of the Museum (SiC). One of its main milestones was the recovery and rehabilitation of the valuable American car Harlan, a complex restoration that involved an investment of eight years of work. This vehicle could be incorporated into the exhibition collection as one of its main jewels. They were awarded the Bonaplata Prize 2015, a distinction awarded every year by the Associació del Museu de la Ciència i de la Tècnica i d’ Arqueologia Industrial de Catalunya, in the category of collaborating entity, in recognition of their work in the enhancement of the industrial, technical and scientific heritage.