Editor’s Note: This story was originally published at Little Lake County in 2014. It has been added here and updated to reflect current conditions.
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. After being closed for 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic the Museum is slated to re-open on April 11 with new guidelines in place.
Illinois Railway Museum, Union IL
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 originated. 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 climbing. 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.
To protect the health and safety of all guests the museum has established some new rules and procedures. Please be sure to read their full guidelines on the website before heading out. The COVID-19 Pandemic is fluid and Little McHenry County is not responsible for changing information.
Visitors must adhere to the following expectations:
- Visitors and members that have been exposed to COVID-19 recently or have symptoms of COVID-19 (including a fever, cough, or shortness of breath) will not visit.
- Contactless check-in will be conducted by staff at the main parking lot entry booth.
- Temperatures will be checked before allowing entry to the Museum. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater will be denied entry.
- Face coverings are required for everyone ages 2 and up. Please bring your own face covering and wear it at all times, except when dining.
- Trains are limited to no more than 25% of normal capacity. In addition, the length of the ride on the demonstration railroad may be less than the full length of the line.
- The children’s playground will remain closed.
- The Diner currently remains closed. Beverage vending machines are available. You are welcome to bring your own food.
Access to the Museum requires pre-purchased tickets or advance reservations for groups. Tickets are available through www.irm.org or by calling the Museum office at 815-923-4391. Entry without a ticket or reservation is not permitted.
Illinois Railway Museum
7000 Olson Road, Union | 815-923-4000
Check website for full schedule and pricing information
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Opening April 11 for the 2021 Season.