Union, IL: Illinois Railway Museum

Although I am not a train buff, our son is of course very much into trains which leads us to visit many train-themed attractions where ever we go.  I had heard about the Illinois Railway Museum a few times, and decided to make a visit during a recent weekend we spent in Chicago.  The Illinois Railway Museum is “America’s Largest Train Museum” and from my experiences the best I have visited in the country!

Leviathan steam train
(operated all day – everyone could ride along)!

Located in Union, IL about 45 minutes from Chicago, the museum is a bit out of the way but worked well for us as it was somewhat on the way home to St. Louis.  Once off the state highway, there were plenty of well-marked signs leading to the museum, which is located in a fairly isolated farmland.  We did pass Donley’s Wild West Town which looked like it would have been a fun visit as well if we had the time…so it may be possible to make a visit to Union a full day trip.

There was a huge variety of trains operating, all of which we could ride

I found that the location of the Illinois Railway Museum is what allows for many of its best features, which include real live trains running in the nearby tracks.  Admission was $14 per adult, and our toddler was free; this includes unlimited rides on all the trains, which on Memorial Day included diesel, electric, and steam trains in addition to a few historic trolley cars running around the grounds.

The museum features a very large outdoor train yard

The museum is well-organized and easy to navigate.  Everything is a short walk away.  Right at the entrance are the platforms for the various trains running that day; the schedule was pre-defined and well-spaced out for the various types of trains.  The rides were about 30-45 minutes each.

Playing inside a dining car
Barn dedicated to trolley cars

Beyond the trains available to ride, there were a number of large barns housing all types of trains.  The barns were well labeled and offered a wealth of historical & educational information on the trains. 

Running inside another barn
Inside one of the huge barns

Each barn had a specific focus, such as trolley cars, electric trains, passenger cars and so on.  They were very large with an enormous amount of trains to view (and many you could go inside).

The museum also had a very nicely done restaurant with outdoor patio seating directly next to the tracks where some of the trains pass by (great entertain for our son).  The food was typical hotdogs, burgers, fries and the like; it was fairly priced and typical cafeteria style quality.

A really nice resturant on-site
And it was on steps away from running trains passing by!

Overall I found that the Illinois Railway Museum is worth a trip, especially for our toddler who is currently obsessed with trains.  This is the best train museum I have visited in the USA, and #2 I have visited anywhere in the world.  My vote for the world’s best, which is also the world’s largest, is the National Railway Museum in York, England.

National Railway Museum
York, England

© 2012, Adam Sommer. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Union, IL: Illinois Railway Museum

  1. Carrie

    I have written about this place on several occassions and never been there!!! There is a nice train museum outside of Bowling Green, KY and we love the French Lick Scenic Railway in French Lick, IN. You might want to try those out sometime. And I’ll try to make my way to Union! :)It’s only about an hour away.

    1. Adam Sommer

      Thanks for the ideas for more train museums! My son loves trains, so I’ll have to check these ideas out. I’ve wanted to visit French Lick anyway 🙂


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