Frequently Asked Questions
We just love answering questions! Here are some.
- How do I get to the Museum?
- We've got detailed directions here.
- How big is the Museum?
- The Museum is currently housed on 18 acres of land, including a 100,000 square foot exhibit hall for the display of over 50 pieces indoors. Additional displays are stored outside in our Restoration Yard, and are available for viewing whenever weather, staffing, and safety conditions permit. In total there are over 100 locomotives and railroad cars.
- Are there any "open" locomotives or cars?
- Not all of our rolling stock pieces are open
for public inspection, for many reasons. For example, heavy
traffic and human contact can damage artifacts.
We want to be able
to preserve our collection for future generations, so preservation
is important. Safety is essential as well; many of our pieces
could not allow people to safely gain access.
Typically, visitors can get up close to
observe closed pieces from ground level. Several key pieces of our
collection are accessible to the public on a regular basis, including
a steam locomotive cab, a caboose, and a passenger car.
in many cases, if we cannot allow visitors to actually walk through
these pieces, stairways and special platforms allow visitors to
get a close-up glimpse at the interiors through the windows of the
equipment. Some additional pieces of equipment not
usually accessible to the public are opened to the public for special
occasions or frequently when staffing permits.
- May I take
- Bring your camera! Indoors and out. Film is available in the Whistle Stop Shop. (Commercial photography or unusual activity subject to restriction; please call in advance.)
- Is the outdoor yard always open?
- No. The primary purpose of the yard is to store rolling stock awaiting restoration, or which does not fit inside. Although access to it is not a part of the regular admission, we recognize its interest to visitors and open it as much as possible.
Ongoing restoration work on the equipment, safety concerns for our visitors, weather, and the availability of volunteer docents are all factors. Typically, when not open for casual visit, guided tours of the yard are scheduled. There is no additional charge for access to the yard, but donations to assist the restoration activity are most appreciated.
- Is any of the equipment in the Yard going to be moved inside?
- The Yard, as well as Rolling Stock Hall, is quite full. Therefore, many of the pieces that you see outside will stay there. However, the rolling stock pieces in both areas - outside and inside - have been subjected to periodic shifts.
Occasionally, as many of our most important pieces are restored, their positions in, or relative to, the main building have been altered. While the possibility for building expansion lies in the future, some pieces will be required to reside in the Yard.
- How long does it take to go through the Museum?
- That depends on your interest and whether special events are ongoing. A visitor can go through the Museum, take part in a scheduled tour and visit the Whistle Stop Shop in about two hours. A minimum time is one hour. Some visitors with special interests may spend much longer.
- Can we leave the building and then come back?
- Tickets are good for the entire day of purchase. We're happy to have you back if you leave to ride the train on the Strasburg Rail Road, or for any other reason. Please retain your receipt and show it to the person at the front desk when you return.
- Do you have food in the Museum? Is there any place to eat?
- Visitors are not permitted to bring food or beverages into the Museum, as spills on valuable Museum artifacts can cause irreparable damage. The exception to the “no food or drink” policy is a designated vending area on Platform 5 West, next to the yard entrance. Two machines with a variety of beverages and one machine with snacks are available. Credit/debit cards and cash/coins are accepted. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Friends of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Enjoy food and drink in this area, with a few picnic tables for seating, before resuming your Museum visit.
- Do you have a "Big Boy?"
- Frequently, docents are asked whether or not the Museum is home to one of these massive locomotives. There were a total of twenty-five 4-8-8-4 articulated steam locomotives, or "Big Boys," built by the American Locomotive Works, eight of which survive today.
The nearest "Big Boy" can be seen at Steamtown National Historic Park, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. But a "Big Boy" could not become part of the collection of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania because it does not fit within the parameters of our mission statement. The mission of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is to collect, preserve and interpret objects relating to the history of railroading in Pennsylvania.
The "Big Boy" was not built, nor did it operate, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during its regular term of revenue service. The Pennsylvania Railroad M1B, or "Mountain," No. 6755 steam locomotive is the largest and heaviest Pennsylvania built and operated steam locomotive in the collection of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. No. 6755 is a 195-ton engine with a 108-ton (loaded) "long-haul" or "coast-to-coast" tender.
- Do any of the locomotives still run?
- Most of the locomotives COULD become operable again with some MAJOR restoration work. However, this would extremely expensive, and even if they can be restored to running condition, these locomotives would require constant maintenance and supervision - both of which are also enormously costly. The industrial infrastructure that could once provide a steady supply of parts for these locomotives no longer exists.
These are not "ordinary" locomotives, but have special historic value which must be preserved for future visitors to enjoy. Therefore, virtually all of our restoration work is "cosmetic," focusing on restoring the visible elements to historic character.
The Museum also owns a 16-ton Plymouth diesel, originally used by Pennsylvania Power and Light, which is maintained in operable condition to move equipment for display or restoration. Two small gasoline powered "speeders," used by maintenance crews to inspect and work on the track, are also stored in operable condition and are occasionally used during special events. The turntable is quite often used to facilitate the movement of new rolling stock pieces and the relocation of artifacts awaiting restoration in our Restoration Shop building. The turntable is also operated on occasion in the summer for visitors.
- How much does it cost to restore a train?
- Costs vary greatly depending on the size, complexity and condition of each piece of equipment. Repainting a freight car might cost as little as $15,000. Cosmetic restorations of some of our larger locomotives and first-class passenger cars are expected to cost more than $1 million each. Restoration to operating condition would be even more costly. Nearly all of the funding for this work is raised by the Friends of the Museum and is not funded as part of our general operating budget.
- How Do Steam Engines (Locomotives) Work?
- We have a special page that explains this in simplified fashion. Although it was written for kids, with a cutaway sketch of a locomotive, it's helpful for everybody!
- How do we ride the train? What other activities are available nearby?
- We have a special page about this! The Strasburg Rail Road, located directly across the street from the Museum, is privately operated. Tickets may be obtained at the Ticket Office at the Rail Road, not at the Museum. The Museum front desk has available information on schedules.
For information, call the Strasburg Rail Road at 717 687-7522, or see their web site at www.strasburgrailroad.com. Please note that the Museum and the Rail Road are independent operations, as is the nearby National Toy Train Museum. Tickets are not transferable. For more information on local attractions see this page. It is not unusual for some members of a family to enjoy shopping centers on Route 30 several miles away, or other local attractions, while other members enjoy the Museum.
- Do you welcome group bus tours?
- See our Group Visits page for all the details.
- Do you have any special events or trips?
- The Railroad Museum and Friends of the Railroad Museum hold a variety of special events each year, some of which have become seasonal standards, such as "Home for the Holidays." For railroad enthusiasts, there are, for example, "Pennsy Days" and "Reading Railroad Days." The Friends generally sponsor several Museum "rambles" annually. Rambles are open to members of the Friends and the general public.
- Who owns the Museum? When did it open?
- The Museum is owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Additional funding and operational support is provided by a private, non-profit organization, the Friends of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. The Museum opened to the public in 1975.
- Was this an old railroad station or shop?
- Although our neighbor, the Strasburg Railroad, dates to 1832, prior to being a railroad museum, the Museum site was previously agricultural land. In fact, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania has the distinction of being the first structure built specifically to house a railroad collection in the United States. An addition to the main hall, opened in 1995 was designed to reflect the architecture of a 19th Century trainshed.
- Are there any guided tours or specific program times?
- The main exhibits inside the Museum can all be seen without a guided tour to allow you to explore at your own pace. When volunteer staff are available, additional equipment may be opened, programs offered in our Railway Education Center, or a variety of guided tours may be offered. A complete schedule of these programs and times is posted in the lobby daily and will be announced via the public address system. These are all provided free of charge.
A special behind-the-scenes tour of our Restoration Shop, normally off-limits to the public due to safety constraints, is also offered at 12:00 and 4:00 most days, conditions and staff availability permitting. A $10 per person fee, directly benefiting the restoration of our railcars, is charged for this tour. Additional behind-the-scenes tours are being planned. You can always inquire about availability at the front desk, or call ahead to confirm our daily schedule before you arrive.
- Is the Museum still acquiring trains? Where do you find them?
- The Railroad Museum does have plans for continued acquisitions. With such a large collection however, we must be very careful about what and how much more we can add. The Museum has a detailed collecting plan that outlines our priorities and directs our searches. The Museum is regularly offered historic equipment from private collectors and the railroads themselves. Because of our funding limitations and the cost of moving the equipment to the Museum by rail or by truck, equipment is usually donated.