Illinois Railway Museum

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Illinois Railway Museum
Reporting marks IRYM
Locale Illinois
Dates of operation 1953present
Track gauge ft 8½ in (1435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Union, Illinois
The only surviving EMD E5 is used regularly on the museum's excursion trains, usually pulling the Nebraska Zephyr.

The Illinois Railway Museum (IRM) is the United States's largest railway museum. Granted tax-exempt status in 1957, the mission of the Museum is to demonstrate the vital role railroads have played in the growth of the Chicago area as well as the United States.

Located in Union, Illinois, 55 miles northwest of Chicago, the museum has over 400 pieces of equipment. Rides on some of the museum's electric, steam and diesel powered trains are offered from April through October.


The museum was founded in 1953 by ten men (one of the founders was Howard Odinius from Milwaukee) who joined together to purchase Indiana Railroad interurban car 65. Originally called the Illinois Electric Railway Museum, the name was changed to IRM in 1961 to reflect the museum's expanding scope. The museum was initially located on the grounds of the Chicago Hardware Foundry in North Chicago, Illinois. In 1964 the museum's entire collection was relocated to Union along the former right-of-way of the Elgin & Belvidere interurban. Two years later, operations were begun using Illinois Terminal interurban car 415, and in 1967 the first steam engine was operated. The first storage barn was erected in 1971. In 1981 a one-mile streetcar loop was constructed and during the 1980s and early 1990s the museum's main line was extended to a length of 4.9 miles.

A circa 1907 interurban train operating at the Illinois Railway Museum in 2003


The museum's operations are primarily concentrated around its main campus just east of Union, Illinois. Train rides are offered on the 4.9 mile long main line as well as the one-mile streetcar loop. Electric trains are operated from April through October, and diesel and steam trains from Memorial Day through mid-September. Occasional trolley bus rides are also offered. IRM is one of only two railway museums in the country that operates both electric and diesel trains, and it is the only museum that offers trolley bus rides.

Physical Plant

CA&E car 431 sits in a barn at the museum

The Illinois Railway Museum has the most extensive physical plant of any rail museum in North America. In addition to the museum's revenue trackage, the main campus in Union includes:

  • ten equipment storage barns with a total of about two miles of track under cover
  • a dedicated steam restoration shop
  • an 1853 train depot (see below)
  • a complete Chicago Rapid Transit Company elevated station
  • four streetcar stations of varying design
  • several neon signs and concrete entablatures on display
  • an indoor dining facility built in 2003

IRM also owns two off-site libraries, the Pullman Library in downtown Union and the Strahorn Research Library in downtown Marengo.

Notable equipment

One of only two surviving examples of Union Pacific's turbines is kept in non-operating condition.
SP 1518, the first EMD SD7 built.
Milwaukee Road 760, the first locomotive built by Fairbanks-Morse.

Among the equipment preserved at IRM is:

Use in film

Due to its proximity to Chicago and its extensive collection of historic railroad equipment, IRM has been used in several films. The most apparent may be in the 1992 film "A League of Their Own", starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna; the museum's depot was used for several small town depot scenes and the Nebraska Zephyr and only surviving EMD E5 were used for scenes of and on the train. IRM equipment was also seen in the movie "Groundhog Day", which featured the museum's EMD SD24 diesel locomotive. Additionally the museum and some of the passenger cars, were used in the movie "The Babe", starring John Goodman. In late 2005, the Burlington 9911A and several coaches operated to Chicago for filming in "Flags of Our Fathers", a Clint Eastwood film.

Special Events

The museum hosts a series of annual special events, of which the most popular is the Day Out With Thomas event in August. Other recurring events include Chicago Day in June, which commemorates the end of streetcar service in Chicago in 1958; the annual July 4th Trolley Pageant; Diesel Days in July; the Vintage Transportation Extravaganza in August; and Museum Showcase Weekend in September.

See also

External links