THE MAYOR of Reading was on hand two Fridays ago to help launch a major new exhibition in Reading Museum which celebrates the chequered history of the town’s railways.

Dignitaries including Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, gathered in the Madejski Gallery for the gala press night of On Track: Reading’s Railways Past, Present and Future.

Visitors journey through time from the rail network’s modest beginnings in 1840, when the first passenger carriages left for London, right up to the plans for the Elizabeth Line and beyond.

Cllr Paul Gittings, Reading lead member for culture, sport and consumer services, acclaimed the exhibition as a perfect complement to the town’s Year of Culture in 2016.

“The impact of the railways on Reading has been immense,” he said.I’m positive this exhibition will be very worthy of the generous support we have received from our rail industry partners,” he said.

The gallery, which has been in development for about a year, uses memorabilia sourced from ordinary residents as well as significant loans from heritage museums.

Notable artefacts include a 1990s leaflet heralding the arrival of Crossrail, as well as a promotional Paddington Bear tin tray that was designed in the town.

The classic children’s character was inspired by author Michael Bond’s memories of evacuees passing through Reading station in the Second World War.

“There is genuinely something for everyone,” said Lord Faulkner in his speech to the launch night crowd.

Richard Marks, a historical consultant for the new display, believed that On Track’s opening reflected a general resurgence in the appeal of rail travel.

“In the 1970s there was a chronic lack of investment in the railways,” said Mr Marks, 46.

“But because people use them more now, they are getting interested in them again.”

The exhibition has also prompted reflection on Reading’s changing landscape.

“I can remember sitting in my dad’s car, when I was just a boy, at the filling station in front of the old railway,” the Mayor recalled.

Nowadays nearly 20 million passengers pass through the sleek rail concourse each year, which re-opened in 2014, becoming one of the country’s busiest hubs.

Richard Lawrance, CEO of Resourcing Solutions, a major regional sponsor of the gallery, felt the opening of Crossrail would be the next milestone in the town’s transport heritage.

He said: “The future of Reading really does rely on the development of the railways.”

On Track runs at Reading Museum in Blagrave Street until Jan 14, 2017.