In writing this leader column just hours after British steam rocketed to the magic 100mph for the first time in half a century, one might have imagined I’d be taking the opportunity to wax lyrical about this momentous preservation achievement. Sadly not. For there is something far more profound and which has potentially far-reaching consequences for the movement. It surrounds the disposal of a British main line steam locomotive from the National Collection for only the second time in the institution’s history. Indeed, it’s the second time in less than a year. The locomotive in question is a unique survivor: William Adams’ elegant ‘T3’ 4-4-0 No. 563, which has been gifted to the Swanage Railway. It has been a nationally owned treasure ever since 1948. On March 30, we found out that it no longer was. Few people, if anybody, knew of the NRM’s intentions for the ‘T3’ outside of the Science Museum Group and the Swanage Railway. That was until a news release, issued by the Swanage Railway, that revealed its new addition. That No. 563 has been presented to Swanage isn’t the issue at hand. The ‘Purbeck Line’ is a truly fitting venue for the 1893-built machine and it has pledged to treasure it with the care and attention that this unique survivor deserves. What is an issue, however, is the manner in which ownership of this national asset was transferred to an outside organisation. The issue of transparency in object disposal from national museums is steered by established procedure, which the NRM explicitly signs up to. The SMG states that its disposals are “guided by the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics and Disposal Toolkit.” This toolkit, a 31-page set of guidelines, is publicly accessible. It states that: “Museums should adopt an open and honest approach that explains the context and potential benefit of the planned course of action. It is important to set out publicly the museum’s overall policy on disposal against which individual cases can be explained.” Note two of the key words in that statement: ‘planned’ and ‘potential’. Neither are applicable to a public asset that has already been given away. It goes on… “Base decisions to dispose on clear, published criteria as part of the institution’s long-term collections policy, approved by the governing body. Ensure transparency and carry out any disposal openly, according to unambiguous, generally accepted procedures. Manage the process with care and sensitivity to public perceptions… “Museums are trusted institutions and it is important that this legacy is not damaged. They must ensure transparency and openness around the disposal of items from collections.” It adds: “It is important to keep the public informed of plans relating to the disposal of items through press and media. Good proactive communication can do much to increase the public’s understanding and awareness of this area of museum practice.” So why did the NRM conduct the disposal of No. 563 - and the ‘North Staffs’ 0-6-2T in 2016 - without informing the public beforehand? Steam Railway has asked why this wasn’t done, but York’s response didn’t clarify why the gifting of the ‘T3’ seemingly didn’t follow the museum’s own guidelines or, alternatively, present a counter-argument to the effect that it did. This is important stuff: while you may or may not feel positive towards the ‘T3’s’ disposal, what might go next? The ‘V2’, ‘Stanier tank’, ‘KGV’ or the Midland ‘Compound’? The ‘Duchess’? Impossible? You might think so, but the NRM has not commented on whether or not there will be any more giveaways. In our opinion, this raises the spectre of a significant reduction of NRM-owned locomotives - unless two in the last year was mere coincidence. The disposals of the nation’s ‘Knotty tank’ and the ‘T3’ set a concerning precedent. And if there are to be more in the future, wouldn’t you like to have your say first? The NRM can do much to reassure the public that a clear-out of classics isn’t on the cards if it takes a more open approach. Even if there is, it’s our view that the museum should be confident enough to open its plans to public scrutiny. The collection, built up by the nation over decades, deserves no less.