Plan Your Visit
The Illinois Railway Museum has the largest collection of historic railway equipment in America.
The main museum campus in Union, Illinois features more than twenty structures spread out across 100 acres of land. These include exhibit buildings which house much of the museum's collection of trains as well as historic structures like the 1851 East Union Depot, Spaulding Tower, the Schroeder Mercantile Store, and the Central Diner. Plan on spending the day: from horse-drawn streetcars to million-pound steam locomotives, from sleek streamliners to workaday boxcars, there's a LOT to see!
Please check the operating schedule for open days. The grounds are open for self-guided tours all days the museum is open.
During the 2020 season, advance tickets are required. Click here to reserve tickets online. Museum members do not need a ticket and will just need to bring their plastic membership card.
Mask requirements and social distancing policies are currently in effect. Please read through these policies here before your visit.
Safety First: always look both ways before crossing any railroad tracks and expect a train on any track at any time. Climbing on trains can be dangerous and is prohibited except where boarding a train is specifically indicated.
On operating days, exhibit buildings will be open. Admission is charged on all operating days but parking is always free. Except for special-fare days, your admission ticket includes unlimited train rides and access to all public areas of the museum. IRM is an outdoor museum so when planning your visit please dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Exhibit buildings are not heated or air-conditioned but are handicapped-accessible. The Schroeder Store and Central Diner are heated and air-conditioned.
Facilities available during operating days include restrooms in the East Union Depot and Central Diner. Food service is available in the diner weekends between mid-May and early October and weekdays between mid-June and Labor Day. When open, diner hours are 11am-4pm on weekends and 11am-3pm on weekdays. The Central Diner incorporates an original 1930s roadside diner and features a dining room with panoramic views of streetcars on the streetcar line. There are picnic tables located around the property and visitors are welcome to bring their own food. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
What to Do
The Illinois Railway Museum strives for an immersive experience: we want you to feel transported back into the glory age of rail travel aboard our rolling time machines. The centerpiece of the museum experience is the train ride. Your admission ticket includes unlimited rides on the day of your visit.
Board the streetcar next to the 50th Avenue ‘L’ station for a ride up to the historic 1851 East Union Depot, where on weekends during the summer you can transfer to a main line steam or diesel train. A train trip on the museum’s five-mile main line railroad takes between 35 and 45 minutes and returns directly to the depot. Hear the clickety-clack of the rail, feel the breeze through the open windows, smell the coal smoke of the steam engine. If you’d like a shorter trip, a ride on the streetcar line is just the thing. Streetcars operate in a loop around the property, passing scenic Electric Park and stopping at several locations around the museum campus. You may board or alight at any stop. A complete circuit of the streetcar line takes about 15 minutes. On weekends during the summer there are typically multiple trains operating on both the main line and streetcar line. On weekdays an electric train will travel over both routes.
There’s much more to see and do as you walk around the museum campus. Our train-themed playground, located just behind the depot on the north side of Barn 3, is a great way for kids to play while watching a parade of railway equipment pass by at busy Car Line Junction. Nearby you can explore an authentic track inspection car, or “speeder,” from the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad. In Barn 3, climb aboard a train of historic Pullman passenger cars and see what luxury travel was like 60 or 70 years ago. Relax in the plush armchairs of the Santa Fe Lounge car to view a video about the museum or have a seat in the Galt House dining car from the famous Pan-American train. If you like, you can even make a speech from the open platform of one of our historic parlor-observation cars!
What to See
The highlight of the Illinois Railway Museum is its collection of historic railway equipment – the largest collection in North America, in fact. On your visit you’ll have the opportunity to tour several large exhibit buildings packed with antique trains.
See how people rode the rails a century ago and take a stroll through Barn 3, where restored Pullman sleeping cars, opulent private cars, dining cars and coaches are on display. In Barn 6 you’ll see examples of the electric interurban railway network that once criss-crossed the Midwest, with high-speed electric trains like the North Shore “Silverliners” and the elegant 1906 parlor car Talisman from the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley. Barn 7 is where you’ll find the streetcars, or trolleys, that once carried a million Chicagoans a day. You can go from an 1859-vintage horse-drawn streetcar – the oldest railway car at the museum – all the way to the most modern streetcar ever to run in Chicago, the 1948 “Green Hornet” streamliner. For examples of what ran above those streetcars, visit the historic ‘L’ cars in Barn 8, including examples of all major types to run in Chicago since 1898. And Barn 9 is where to find the true giants of the rails: the huge steam locomotives that once hauled passengers and freight across a continent. Alongside them is the historic Nebraska Zephyr articulated streamliner, the only remaining train of its type and star of the movie A League of Their Own.
There’s much more to see besides the trains themselves. In the East Union Depot and in Barn 9 there are historic displays showing how trains work. In Yard 5 you can step into our exhibit cars, which feature rotating exhibits on aspects of rail history like railroad china, railroad police, and locomotive builder’s plates. Next to Barn 4 is a display of many different railroad signals which light up and operate. Across from the Central Avenue Diner is the historic 50th Avenue elevated station from Chicago, which has been restored to its 1920s appearance and is open for tours on operating days. In the Hoffman Garage you can see historic buses and trolley buses as well as the only preserved train from the Chicago Tunnel Company, whose long-abandoned underground network became infamous when it caused the flooding of the Loop in 1992. The museum is also dotted with restored historic signs. These include stone entablatures, operating neon signs, and the giant “Santa Fe” sign from the Railway Exchange Building on Michigan Avenue.
The public areas of the museum grounds are all wheelchair-accessible. All of the train exhibit barns and most of our buildings, including the depot, Central Diner, and Schroeder Store, are fully or partially wheelchair-accessible. Some main line trains are wheelchair-accessible as well including coach trains and CTA 'L' trains (see our calendar for a list of what's running on any day). We encourage anyone to contact our office at 815-923-4391 to inquire about whether a wheelchair-accessible train will be operating on the day of your visit.