The World's Best Railway Museums



July 29th, 2021

For many-a-railfan, nothing beats getting out and about, onto the platforms, riding in carriages, seeing moving trains and locomotives of all shapes and sizes and basking in what can be seen in operation both on modern and heritage railways. But equally, learning about the history of railways through static exhibits, archive photos and historic documents can be just as gratifying and valuable to any railfan. Below we take a look at some of the most famous and well-known railway and railroad museums around the globe - please check their websites or contact them direct regarding opening times and information about visiting.

National Railway Museum, York, England

The National Rail Museum, in the beautiful, historic, English city of York is one of the most popular railfan locations in the UK, charting the history of British railways, locomotives and the iconic figures that made them possible. The museum is located just a short walk away from York Railway Station which brings people from London via LNER services - quite apt given the history of the LNER brand. Free admission allows all to step through the much expanded site, which hosts the Great Hall, where many famous locomotives are displayed, as well as archive and library rooms and outdoor exhibits, including on occasion visiting locomotives from the mainline and other heritage railways / museums. Since 1975 the museum has inspired railfans of all ages from across the globe and continues to grow and expand with more recent exhibits like the record-breaking HST power car and a sister site at Shildon dubbed 'Locomotion'. NRM-Diesels-Joe-Rogers 'Mallard', EuroStar, a Japanese Bullet Train - the National Railway Museum has it all, but some of the best exhibits lie in the historic British Diesel Locomotives. Pictured are Class 52 D1023 'Western Fusilier' (with Western Requiem headboard), Class 55 'Deltic' D9002 and Class 40 D200 in the Great Hall. Photo by Joe Rogers.

Cité du Train, Mulhouse, France

Mulhouse, a city on the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland, is famous not only for being a major industrialised settlement in its past, but also for hosting some of the largest museums in the world. For fans of anything with wheels, Mulhouse is a must for the bucket list, being the host of both the largest automobile museum 'Cité de l'Automobile' and the largest railway museum: 'Cité du Train'. The museum began in the 1960s as an area for SNCF to display some of their locomotives and today this has become a popular attraction for families and railfans wanting to learn more about the history of France's railway network. Though it receives less visitors annually than its counterpart in England, the Cité du Train is an impressive place hosting the Imperial Train of Napoleon III, rolling stock from the Orient Express and the TGV. Cite_du_Train_Mulhouse_2014_170_-15518841783- SNCF high speed trains await at Cité du Train. Photo by Klaus Nahr. CC BY-SA 2.0

Train World, Brussels, Belgium

Belgium's Train World is a relatively recent addition to the world's railway museums, having been opened by King Philippe in 2015, but is nevertheless an important one to visit in the context of European railway history. Its highlight is the oldest locomotive in continental Europe, the 'Pays de Waes' engine of 1845. The museum, in addition to celebrating the past, also looks to the future of rail travel in Belgium and beyond and hosts interactive cabs from three large locomotive manufacturers: Siemens, Alstom and Bombardier. Electric locomotives also form a number of exhibits. Train_World-_railway_museum_in_Brussels_01 'Pays de Waes' is the smaller engine seen in this collection of four steam locomotives. Photo by NearEMPTiness. CC BY-SA 4.0

National Railroad Museum, Green Bay, WI, USA

In previous articles about the A4 Pacifics, Big Boy and GG1 locomotives, We Are Railfans has highlighted remaining examples residing at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin and this shows just how important and wide-ranging their collection of locomotives is. Not often do historically important British locomotives make it overseas, but with LNER Class A4 4496 renamed Dwight D Eisenhower after the Second World War, it is more than appropriate for this example of the A4 class to remain stateside. An example of the innovating 1950s Aerotrain also resides here along with a host of EMD, ALCO and General Electric Diesel locomotives, charting the history of railroads that remain crucial to transport of goods across the United States. Like the NRM in Britain, the NRRM also has plentiful archive material, railroad records, static rolling stock both freight and passenger and photographs dating back to the 1890s. Wisconsin_Central_GP30_Ltd_No_715 Soo Line Railroad EMD GP30 No. 715 (later Wisconsin Central Ltd No. 715) National Railroad Museum, Green Bay, WI. Photo by Dual Freq. CC BY 3.0

Kyoto Railway Museum, Kyoto, Japan

Japan's railways are some of the most fascinating in the world, largely down to their pursuit of speed over the last half-century and the popularity of the iconic 'Bullet Trains' or Shinkansen as they are known locally. It's not surprising therefore to see a number of these speedy locomotives and train sets on display at the Kyoto Railway Museum in Japan including the 0 Series dating from the 1960s and the more recent 500 Series from the 1990s. But it's not all about speed. Japan's far reaching railway past featured many different classes of steam locomotive and these too are on prominent display in the historic roundhouse that forms part of the museum. Many of these steam locomotives date from the 1920s through to the late 1940s. A former station, Nijō Station, was also relocated to the museum from elsewhere in Kyoto. Main_building_of_the_Kyoto_Railway_Museum Interior of the main building of the Kyoto Railway Museum, featuring from left to right: Series 500 'Shinkansen', KuHaNe 581 35 and a 489 series EMU. Photo by Christophe95. CC BY-SA 4.0

Nuremberg Transport Museum, Nuremberg, Germany

A number of different museum exhibitions come together in Nuremberg to form the Nuremberg Transport Museum, namely the Communications Museum and a museum dedicated to DB or Deutsche Bahn, the national railway operator in Germany and a global player in the modern day railway industry. The museums origins lie back in the late 1890s and has grown over the last 100 years or more to represent much of Germany's railway history - from steam, through diesel and to the electric era - through static locomotives like Nordgau built in 1853 and mock ups of the present day ICE trains that whizz passengers across Germany and beyond. Like the NRM in Britain, chartered trains and rail tours sometimes frequent the city and some are owned by the museum themselves. Off-site museums at Halle and Koblenz offer alternative displays and storage space for locomotives not kept in Nuremberg. Though some locomotives were lost during a fire in 2005 and others loaned / sold to other groups and museums, some were restored and today the museum continues to attract visitors. 601_Verkehrsmuseum_Nuernberg_11092010_complete_train A Diesel motor coach of the VT 11.5 (BR 601) with two coaches and a gas turbine motor coach (BR 602) in the Transport Museum in Nuremberg. Photo by Urmelbeauftragter. CC BY-SA 1.0

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