Railroad museums are very interesting places, even if you do not hold a serious interest in railroading! For instance, if you ever had the slightest interest in trains they are excellent resource tools that will teach you a lot about the industry, particularly the subject upon which the museum is based (such as a former railroad company or a state’s railroading history). Railroad museums are also about the only place that we the public can get an up close and personal look at the equipment itself, from boxcars and cabooses to locomotives themselves; steam, diesel, and even the rare electric! Many times these museums will even allow you to look inside or visit the cabs of the locomotives to get a visual idea yourself of the instruments and equipment inside.
A number of museums also operate as tourist trains allowing you to not only view their equipment on site, but also ride the train too. Depending on the size of the museum and amount of track it owns, train rides can consist of either a short mile or a four-hour plus ride through the countryside, sometimes in well-maintained cars with comfortable seating and climate controlled interiors. Regardless of what kind of ride you may take just being on one is a lot of fun, even for the non-railroad enthusiast! Railroad museums in general are very expensive to operate, particularly if they include a tourist train.
This is due to the overhead costs involved in just keeping the equipment maintained as well as restoring awaiting rolling stock that many times is in very poor condition because of years of neglect and exposure to the elements. For instance steam locomotives are extremely expensive to initially restore (usually costing millions and several years of volunteer effort), although they continue to return to life not only because of their historical significance but also because they always draw the largest crowds. As such, it often takes many years to complete a project unless the facility is large enough or has some state funding such as the Illinois Railway Museum (the largest such operation in the country) and California State Railroad Museum.
You might be surprised to learn that railroad museums are a relatively new phenomenon, at least in comparison to the industry's overall history. Most organizations did not get their start until the 1950s (for instance, the B&O Railroad Museum, funded by the railroad itself opened to the public on July 4, 1953) when both railroads and individuals began to recognize that the industry's history needed to be preserved for future generations (remember that this was a time when steam locomotives were rapidly disappearing and the merger movement was just around the corner). Since that time there are today several such facilities and one is still owned by a railroad, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Notable Railroad Museum Events
There are a number of larger and more recognized museums across the country, which I will include in more detail in the links found below with the museums themselves broken down by the geographic area of the country in which they are located. As time allows I will be covering more facilities. In the meantime, below you will find a link a guide listing nearly all museums currently found around the country broken down by state.
Steamers are a sight to behold in operation so if you have never seen one for yourself please try if the opportunity presents itself as they are something to see! Having said that, if you may have a museum in mind to visit and if you have the means please donate a little something as almost all rely on some form on monetary gifts to continue operating. Not only that but you are also helping to keep our nation’s railroad history alive and well for future generations to explore and witness for themselves. Large or small railroad museums are great places to see and experience railroad history because not only to you get to actually touch things!, but in many cases, as mentioned before with live operating steam locomotives; you can hear and feel the true power of these machines (a very exhilarating experience, not matter how large or small the steamer might be!).