Visit Illinois Railway Museum
Where: 7000 Olson Road, Union, Illinois, 60180 1-815-923-4391. Check the website for current hours.
Admission : Adult (Ages 18 – 64) $11.00 – $15.00. Child Ages 2 – 12 $8.00 – $11.00. Youth ages 13 – 17 $9.00 – $13.00. Senior Ages 65+ $9.00 – $13.00. Family Package (Admission for 2 Adults and 3 Children) $42-55. Weekends are more expensive. If someone in your party has access to a suburban library card you may be able to get a discount pass here.
The Illinois Railway Museum (IRM) is closer to Wisconsin than downtown. The last time I went, in 2019, somebody picked me up. When we were driving back I noticed a sign for MCRide Dial-a-ride available in McHenry County. I thought: So you can get there without a car on Metra to Crystal Lake (or Woodstock) and then use Dial-a-ride. Two years later I’m finally writing this post!
About the Museum
If you’re a rail enthusiast you’ve already been there! For everyone else it’s a fun place for kids and adults where you can walk around and look at and learn about old trains, buses and other transit. On certain days they run electric and diesel trains some of which you can ride on. On the day we went we rode on an old CTA train. Bring food and beverages. Outside food and beverages are allowed. Nothing was available when we went. There are tables around where you can eat (and rest). There is also a children’s playground.
Upcoming events at IRM
August 1 – Sunday – 30th Annual Vintage Transport Extravaganza
Display of hundreds of antique autos, trucks, fire engines, tractors, motorcycles and buses. Ride the streetcars to the various display areas. Interurbans and diesel coach trains will be running on the mainline.
August 6, 7 & 8 – Friday, Saturday & Sunday – Diesel Days
Rarely-seen vintage diesels will operate in a variety of combinations and roles. Take a ride on a coach train and a caboose train. Weekend fares apply on Friday, August 6, 2021.
September 4, 5 & 6 – Saturday, Sunday & Monday – Labor Day Weekend
Three days and two evenings of fun. Enjoy a twilight train ride, one of the most immersive experiences we offer. Extended hours Saturday and Sunday to 9:30pm. COTC note: You’ll have to drive if you want to do the twilight trains.
September 18 & 19 – Saturday & Sunday – Museum Showcase Weekend
Ride and see some of the less frequently run equipment at IRM.
September 25 – Saturday – Bus Day
Trolley bus and motor bus rides and see other buses that will be open and on display.
October 23, 24, 30 & 31 – Saturdays & Sundays – Pumpkin Train
Pick up your pumpkin by train and enjoy some Halloween-themed family fun. Kids encouraged to come in costume.
November 26, 27 & 28, December 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 & 19 – Saturdays & Sundays – Happy Holiday Railway
Embark on a magical train ride through the winter countryside with Santa. Warm treats will be served and gifts will be given to kids on Santa’s “good list”. Special Fare Event. No passes honored for this event. Check website for opening times.
Prepare to do a lot of walking
The Museum is on over 100 acres and has 20 sheds filled with old trains. They have everything from steam locomotives, CTA cars, cabooses, Pullman cars, streamliners and more. On the website you can go to the Learn tab, look at the equipment, photo gallery, watch live webcams. Online tour
How to Use MCRide – McHenry County’s Dial-A-Ride Service
MCRide is a transit service in McHenry County that takes you door-to-door. Apparently, because there aren’t
any many people in McHenry County (pop. 308k), it’s more economical for them to pick you up and drop you off via Dial-A-Ride than it is to run a fixed route bus.
You need to schedule your trip 1-2 days in advance in order to get your time slot. Ask them how far in advance you need to be picked up in order to make your train going back into the city. MCRide is a shared-ride service, so vehicles may make stops for other passengers.
I have never taken this so I don’t know how reliable it is. Your bus is supposed to arrive within 30 minutes of your pick up time. The IRM website suggests getting off of Metra at either Woodstock or Crystal Lake. They both run on the Union Pacific Northwest Line. The Crystal Lake station is 13.4 miles to the IRM. Woodstock is 9.9 miles. Depending on which day you’re traveling Metra trains run pretty infrequently so I would leave a ton of extra time to get the Dial-A-Ride on the way back so you don’t miss your train.
Both the Crystal Lake and Woodstock Metra stations are in their little downtown’s so you won’t be sitting in an isolated cornfield waiting to be murdered. You can sit in a bar or walk around if you’re early. If you’re in Woodstock you could take the GroundHog Day tour.
To book call 1-800-451-4599. MCRide operates seven days a week, except on major holidays. This service is available to all. Pace Reopening Message for ADA Paratransit Passengers
MCRide operates Weekdays and Weekends 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM. No service on: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Hours to reserve a ride are: Monday through Friday 5:30am-6:00pm .
MCRide fares are distance based. You pay a base fare $3.00 (Seniors $1.50) for the first five miles then $0.25 for each additional mile. When you call to make a trip reservation, ask the Call Center how much your fare will be. MCRide currently only accepts cash fares. You must have exact change. Drivers do not carry change. MCRide said the one way fare per person from Crystal Lake Metra Station to/from IRL: $4.50 each way; Woodstock to/from IRL: $4.25 each way. Metra One day pass Weekdays $10 and Weekends $7. Kids ride free on Metra all summer. CTA to/From Ogilvie Transportation Center $5. Discount CTA passes.
Total cost: $11-15 admission, CTA $5, Metra $7-$10; MCRide Woodstock $8.50= $35-36. Not exactly cheap but an interesting way to spend a day and without a car!