Illinois Railway Museum

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Illinois Railway Museum
Illinois Railway Museum Herald.gif
EMD E5 at IRM.jpg
The only surviving EMD E5 is used regularly on the museum's excursion trains, usually pulling the Nebraska Zephyr.
Locale Union, McHenry County, Illinois
Commercial operations
Built by Elgin and Belvidere Electric Company
Original gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preserved operations
Reporting mark IRYM[1][2][nb 1][nb 2] (claimed by the museum)
Length 4.6 mi (7.4 km)
Preserved gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Commercial history
Opened 1906
Closed to passengers 1930
Closed 1930
Preservation history
1953 Opened as Illinois Electric Railway Museum
1956 Elgin and Belvidere Electric
right-of-way acquired
1961 Current name adopted
1964 Museum relocated
1966 Illinois Terminal interurban car 415 first operated
1967 First steam engine operated
1971 First storage barn erected
1981 streetcar loop constructed
Late1980s / early1990s Railroad line built
Present Continues open
Headquarters Union, Illinois
Illinois Railway Museum

The Illinois Railway Museum (initialized IRM, claimed reporting mark IRYM[1][nb 1][nb 2]) is the largest railroad museum in the United States and is located in Union, Illinois, 55 miles (89 km) northwest of Chicago. The museum is situated at 7000 Olson Rd.[3]

The museum was granted its tax-exempt status in 1957 and its mission is to demonstrate the vital role railroads have played in the growth of the Chicago area as well as 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 individuals 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 (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, Illinois. 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. Trolley bus operation occurs on the Saturdays of the Memorial Day, Independence Day & Labor Day weekends, as well as on "Bus Day", the first Saturday in October. IRM is one of only two railway museums in the country that operates both electric and diesel trains. It is the only museum that offers trolley bus rides.

Equipment and structures[edit]

Physical plant[edit]

The electrified mainline at the Illinois Railway Museum.

The Illinois Railway Museum has the most extensive physical plant of any rail museum in North America. The main campus is located at 42°13′40.0″N 88°31′38.08″W / 42.227778°N 88.5272444°W / 42.227778; -88.5272444. In addition to the museum's revenue trackage, the main campus in Union includes:

  • eleven equipment storage barns with a total of about 3 miles (4.8 km) of track under cover
  • two additional garages housing trolley buses and motor buses
  • a dedicated steam restoration shop
  • an 1853 train depot (see below)
  • a complete Chicago Rapid Transit Company ground-level station
  • four streetcar stations of varying design
  • several restored and functional neon signs and concrete entablatures on display
  • an indoor dining facility built in 2003
  • the 130 foot turnable from the Union Pacific Railroad's Burnham Shops [4]

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

Notable equipment[edit]

Among the equipment preserved at IRM is:


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 approximately 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[edit]

A 1970s Chicago & Northwestern commuter train operating at the Illinois Railway Museum in 2006

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'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 The Express 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.

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[edit]

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 on the first Sunday in August; Museum Showcase Weekend in September; "Bus Day" the first Saturday of October; "Terror on the Railroad" Halloween event (last four weekends of October on Friday and Saturday nights), and "Happy Holiday Railway" (first three weekends of December).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Direct sources from the AAR/NMFTA cannot be publicly accessed/located, although such markings have been second-handedly verified via the FRA and visual wise; however, these marks may be considered expired, reassigned, or unofficial as of 2009.
  2. ^ a b The Illinois Railway Museum has certified that IRYM is their reporting mark, per OTRS ticket 2009103010041944


  1. ^ a b "Illinois Railway Museum: Image".  Close-up of reporting marks on official IRM railroad-owned equipment.
  2. ^ "Illinois Railway Museum: Image".  Equipment photograph bearing IRYM reporting marks.
  3. ^ Illinois Railway Museum Contact Address
  4. ^ "Illinois Railway Museum buys Burnham Shops turntable". Trains. March 25, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2016.  (subscription required)

External links[edit]

External images
RailPictures.Net – Illinois Railway Museum photographs at RailPictures.Net.
Railroad Picture Archives – Illinois Railway Museum photographs from Union, Illinois.

Coordinates: 42°13′39″N 88°31′39″W / 42.22763°N 88.52751°W / 42.22763; -88.52751