What To See
There’s a whole lot to see and learn at the railway museum.
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, 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, from couplers to locomotive boilers and more. In Yard 5 you can step into our exhibit cars, which feature rotating exhibits on aspects of rail history like railroad china, locomotive builder’s plates, and the history of Chicago Union Station. Nearby, 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, including stone entablatures as well as operating neon signs and the giant “Santa Fe” sign from the Railway Exchange Building on Michigan Avenue.
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