Thomas the Tank Engine’s annual visit to Union, Illinois isn’t the only thing happening at the Illinois Railway Museum. While his appearance does drum up a HUGE crowd for the museum and tends to be its biggest fundraiser, visitors can enjoy the massive collection of trains any day without the crowds.
Kids in strollers will be awed by the massive wheels of the steam engine shed. They’ll enjoy riding the free trolley car throughout the park, taking a break at the ice cream shop and playing at the playground. They may also observe a model railroad display by the station. Parents will love all of the unique photo ops with their wee ones.
Older kids will enjoy hearing stories from the volunteers about where these old engines came from. They might learn about how the museum acquired the cars and what their plans are for renovation. They’ll have fun pretending to be train travelers and exploring the Sleeper Train – a row of sleeper cars from various eras connected together so visitors can walk back in time to understand the evolution of train travel.
Keep in mind that these are REAL engines, with sharp parts. Some of the sheds are rusty and the locomotives are not intended to be climbed on. Children riding the trains need to understand basic train travel safety guidelines: keeping hands inside windows, sitting still while trains are moving, etc. But, given these guidelines, the museum provides the perfect outing for current and future train enthusiasts.
My favorite part is riding the rails in trains of old. Of special note is the Nebraska Zephyr, which will return this year for another ride on the museum’s private track. This train was introduced to the rails in 1947 and quickly named “The Train of the Gods” for its speed and luxury. Its twin, the Pioneer Zephyr, is currently on display at the Museum of Science and Industry. Anyone who has seen this exhibit will find a real-life ride in the observation car to be the event of a lifetime.
But there’s always a new train running at the museum, for the most up to date schedule, check the website. For cost-conscious visitors, the museum website also features a listing of free days. And, library patrons can receive even greater discounts by checking out a Museum Adventure Pass and their local library. This discount offers 2 free passes with the purchase of 2 or 1 free pass with the purchase of 1.
So have a great day with Thomas, — but plan a second visit! There’s always more to see, do and ride at the Railway Museum.
Illinois Railway Museum
7000 Olson Road, Union | 815-923-4000
Check website for full schedule and pricing information