Railroads & Locomotives Tourist Railroad Profiles Illinois tourist railroads you must visit

Illinois tourist railroads you must visit

By Lucas Iverson | June 28, 2023

| Last updated on August 10, 2023

Here are our must-see tourist railroads, museums and displays from the railroading capital of Chicago and across the Prairie State.

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Four locomotives lined up outside shop buildingFour EMD products are lined up at the Illinois Railway Museum – one of many Illinois tourist railroads you must visit: Chicago & North Western F7A No. 411; Amtrak AEM-7 No. 945; Santa Fe FP45 No. 92; and Canadian Pacific SD40-2F No. 9023. The first three are from the IRM collection; the ex-Central Maine & Quebec CP unit is active. Russell Sharp

When it comes to railroading capitals in North America, Chicago is one of the top spots on the list. But there’s more to the heritage of iron and steel in the “Land of Lincoln” than just what’s in the Windy City. From Trains Magazine’s Tourist Trains Guidebook, here are the Illinois tourist railroads you must visit!

Illinois Tourist Railroads and Museums

Northeast Illinois

Fox River Trolley Museum – 365 South LaFox Street, South Elgin
The electric interurban systems in and around Chicago were vital to the growth of not just the city, but the suburbs surrounding it. The memories and appreciation of that history exist today in the western suburbs of South Elgin with the Fox River Trolley Museum. The facility is home to a collection of 30 electric trolleys, railroad cars, and locomotives with build dates ranging from 1887 to 1959. About 4 miles of the former Chicago, Aurora & Elgin electric line is still in operation for tourist service between the museum grounds and the Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve along the Fox River.

Illinois Railway Museum – 7000 Olson Road, Union
As “A Museum in Motion,” the Illinois Railway Museum certainly lives up to its slogan! The massive campus contains more than 450 pieces of railroad equipment including 30 steam locomotives, 50 diesels and over 90 streetcars, interurbans, and electric locomotives. A good chunk of the collection is still in operation today, with trolley cars making a quick loop of the grounds on the streetcar line, while trains – including the sleek Nebraska Zephyr – and interurban cars depart from a restored 1851 Chicago & North Western depot over the museum’s 5-mile main line. With a unique variety of train rides and special events, it’s no wonder one of the largest railroad museums in North America is one of the most sought-after for visitors.

Museum of Science & Industry – 5700 South DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
A magnificent museum in downtown Chicago that plays host to plenty of railroad-themed exhibits and displays. The prized possession is the Pioneer Zephyr, one of the first diesel-powered, streamlined passenger trains. Other exhibits include New York Central steam locomotive No. 999, which became the fastest land vehicle when it reached 112.5 mph on May 10, 1893; and The Great Train Story, a Transportation Gallery centerpiece, an HO-scale model railroad that covers downtown Chicago all the way to the Pacific Northwest.

East Central Illinois

Monticello Railway Museum – 992 Iron Horse Place, Monticello
This museum has put together a premier collection of diesel locomotives straight out of their Midwest railroading heritage. If steam is more to your liking, be sure to see Southern Railway 2-8-0 No. 401 in operation when visiting. Don’t forget to also take the 8-mile, round-trip train ride over the former Illinois Central and Illinois Terminal trackage from the Nelsons Crossing depot on the grounds of the Monticello Railway Museum.

Northern Illinois

Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad – West Lamm Road, Freeport
As part of the Stephenson County Antique Engine Club, the Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad operate approximately two miles of track that were re-laid on an old Milwaukee Road grade. A Heisler steam locomotive is the main motive power as it pulls several cabooses and open-air cars from through farmland and across Yellow Creek. Don’t forget to also visit the Silver Creek Museum that is across the street from the railroad’s historic depot.

Other Illinois railroad sites to consider

During your visit to Illinois, consider also visiting these railroad sites:

Ornate multistory brick building with clock tower
The Pullman National Monument Visitor Center includes the Pullman Co. Administration Building and Clock Tower. Eric Allix Rogers, courtesy of Historic Pullman Foundation

Learn more about tourist railroads in North America.

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