Illinois Railway Museum

The Illinois Railway Museum (IRM, reporting mark IRMX) is the largest railroad museum in the United States.[1][2] It is located at 7000 Olson Road[3] in Union, Illinois, 55 miles (89 km) northwest of Chicago.

Illinois Railway Museum
The only surviving EMD E5, named Silver Pilot, pulling one of the museum's excursion trains.
LocaleUnion, McHenry County, Illinois
ConnectionsUnion Pacific Railroad
Commercial operations
Built byElgin and Belvidere Electric Company
Original gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preserved operations
Reporting markIRMX
Length4.6 mi (7.4 km)
Preserved gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preservation history
1953Opened as Illinois Electric Railway Museum
1956Elgin and Belvidere Electric
right-of-way acquired
1961Current name adopted
1964Museum relocated
1966Illinois Terminal interurban car 415 first operated
1967First steam engine operated
1971First storage barn erected
1981Streetcar loop constructed
Late1980s / early1990sRailroad line built
PresentContinues open
HeadquartersUnion, Illinois
Union Pacific Railroad
Schmidt Siding
East Union
Boot Creek
Johnson Siding
Seeman Rd
4 Mile Siding

Granted tax-exempt status in 1957, the museum aims to demonstrate the vital role railroads have played in the growth of the Chicago area and the United States as a whole. There are over 450 pieces of prototype equipment in its collection as well as numerous displays. Visitors may ride on some of the museum's electric, steam, and diesel-powered trains from April through October.



The museum was founded in 1953 by ten people who joined together to purchase Indiana Railroad interurban car 65. Originally called the Illinois Electric Railway Museum, the museum was renamed in 1961 to reflect its expanding scope. Initially located on the grounds of the Chicago Hardware Foundry in North Chicago, Illinois, the museum's entire collection was moved in 1964 to Union along the former right-of-way of the Elgin and Belvidere Electric Company. Two years later, operations began using Illinois Terminal interurban car 415; in 1967, the first steam locomotive was operated. The first storage barn was erected in 1971. In 1981, a one-mile (1.6 km) streetcar loop was constructed. A 4.6-mile (7.4 km) railroad line was built during the 1980s and early 1990s.


The museum's operations are primarily concentrated around its main campus just east of Union. Train rides are offered on the main line as well as the streetcar loop. Electric trains are operated from April through October, and diesel and steam trains from the beginning of May through the end of September. Trolleybus operation occurs on the Saturdays of the Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends, as well as on "Bus Day"; the last Saturday in September or the first Saturday in October. IRM is one of only two railway museums in the country that operates both electric and diesel trains, and the only one to offer trolleybus rides on a regular basis.

Equipment and structures

Physical plant

The Illinois Railway Museum property covers more than 80 acres (32 ha),[4] the most extensive physical plant of any rail museum in North America. In 2009, the museum bought another 89 acres (36 ha) of adjacent land as a buffer against development.[5] The main campus is located at 42°13′40.0″N 88°31′38.08″W. In addition to the museum's revenue trackage, the main campus in Union includes:

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

Notable equipment

Among the locomotives preserved at IRM are:

Other equipment includes:

The museum's depot, built in 1851 for the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, is the oldest train station west of the Appalachian Mountains in regular use.

The museum also maintains an historical collection of 22 electric trolleybuses from Chicago; Dayton, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Vancouver, British Columbia; Edmonton, Alberta; Toronto, Ontario; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; San Francisco, California; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Seattle, Washington.


The Illinois Railway Museum is an IRS Chapter 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation owned and managed by its membership. Museum management includes a board of directors, elected by the regular membership of about 160 active volunteers. A board president is elected by the directors. The board oversees the general manager, a volunteer who in turn has oversight over an array of department heads. Major departments include Steam, Diesel, Electric Car, Passenger Car, Freight Car, Track & Signal, Buildings & Grounds, Trolley Bus, Motor Bus, and Operations. Other departments oversee the museum's libraries, electrical infrastructure, and display and education functions. Most department heads are volunteers. All workers at the museum fall under the direct authority of one of the department heads. The vast majority of workers are volunteers. Anyone who is interested in trains or other collections/aspects of the museum is actively encouraged to volunteer, with required training done by the museum.

Use in film

IRM has been used in several films, due to its proximity to Chicago and its extensive collection of historic railroad equipment. 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; other scenes featured with the Nebraska Zephyr and only surviving EMD E5. The 1993 movie Groundhog Day featured the museum's EMD SD24 diesel locomotive. The museum's grounds 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. The initial sequence of 2008's The Express: The Ernie Davis Story was shot at IRM. The most recent film Transformers: Age of Extinction starring Mark Wahlberg, released in 2014, made IRM the host of several scenes.[7]

Many television shows' railroad sequences have been shot at the IRM. Scenes depicting steam era operations in the late 1920s were shot for the 1993 television series The Untouchables. The hit show Chicago Fire features the IRM onsite in the season 2 episode "No Regrets".

Special events

The museum hosts a series of annual special events,

  • Day out with Thomas event in July
  • Bunny Trolley Hop around Easter
  • Chicago Day in June, which commemorates the end of streetcar service in Chicago in 1958
  • Scout Day in May
  • Vintage Transportation Extravaganza one of the largest antique car shows in the state on the first Sunday in August
  • Diesel Days in mid-August
  • Museum Showcase Weekend in mid-September
  • "Bus Day" the last Saturday of September
  • "Happy Holiday Railway" (weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas)

See also


  1. "Illinois Railway Museum - The Largest!". CNN iReport. September 28, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  2. Green, Joey (2017). Vacation on Location, Midwest. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press Inc. p. n.p. ISBN 978-1-61373-725-5 via Google Books.
  3. Illinois Railway Museum Contact Address
  4. Tourist Trains Guide Book (second ed.). Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Books. 2009 [2007]. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-87116-273-1 via Google Books.
  5. Kallas, Nick (November 20, 2009). "89 Acre Siegel Farm Purchase". Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  6. "Illinois Railway Museum buys Burnham Shops turntable". Trains. March 25, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2016. (subscription required)
  7. "Transformers Movie Comes to Union". Marengo-Union Times. October 1, 2013. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
External images
RailPictures.Net Illinois Railway Museum photographs at RailPictures.Net.
Railroad Picture Archives Illinois Railway Museum photographs from Union, Illinois.

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