In the early 20th century, railways opened up the United States in a way that no other technology had before. It allowed people to explore their country, expand their horizons and even relocate across the nation much more easily than before. For this reason, railways are one of the most important pieces of history and an incredibly fascinating industry that deserves to be remembered.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that there are a number of museums dedicated to preserving and celebrating railway history. Some of these museums focus on specific aspects of railway history, while others are more general and showcase the entire evolution of rail travel through a variety of exhibits and activities. Here are a few of the top railway museums to visit for a thorough appreciation of the history of trains.
The first railway museum in the UK opened up in January 1928 in Queen Street, a space that had been a repair shop attached to the original London & North Eastern Railway headquarters. It’s now a major landmark of train history and features a large display of locomotives. The collection includes George and Robert Stephenson’s Rocket steam engine, a Class Q1 0-6-0 No. C1 and a BR Standard Class 9F 2-10-0 92220 Evening Star, which is currently on static display as the class is banned from running on the national network due to safety concerns.
Besides locomotives, the museum also boasts an impressive selection of other rail cars, such as the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Observation Car Navajo, Denver and Rio Grande Western Coach No. 284, and Union Pacific Diner No. 4801. It also houses a huge archival library that features thousands of historic photos and documents of the Southern, Norfolk and Western, and other railroads.
The museum is run primarily by volunteers, with all necessary training provided on-site. It’s a very active community that’s passionate about the mission of educating and preserving railway history. The RCMP has an 8,200 square foot Conservation and Restoration Workshop that allows preservation work, including stabilization, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and restoration to be performed on railway transportation artifacts in a climate controlled environment.
While most of the museum’s collection is housed at the Railway History Campus in Baltimore, some is stored at other locations. The Museum’s full-time and volunteer staff maintain and care for a vast inventory of railroad transportation artifacts, from locomotives and passenger cars to special railway maintenance vehicles.
The ESRM was founded by railway enthusiasts in 1960 and initially focused on organizing steam excursions and other railfan activities. It eventually sought a permanent home and purchased a segment of track in Phoenicia, New York, along which it could operate its trains. The museum’s collection includes numerous heirloom locomotives and a wide array of other railroad equipment that’s constantly being restored or overhauled. In addition to its collection of railway equipment, the ESRM also operates a small-town railroad that recreates a 1950s-era town in the heart of New York’s Catskill Mountains.