Railroads played an essential part in Nebraska’s past. Many of the small towns sprinkled throughout the state only sprang up because the railroad was coming through the area. Other towns were established before railroad tracks were laid but actually moved – yes, entire towns moved – just to be nearer the tracks. Because of this significance to our history, there are lots of places in Nebraska to learn about trains and railroads.
1. Bailey Yard and Golden Spike Tower, North Platte
As the world's largest rail yard, Bailey Yard is living history for railroad buffs. You can watch the trains move in and out endlessly - watch them
if you can't get there in person.
The Golden Spike Tower is not only the perfect place from which to view the always-moving trains; it's also the perfect place to brush up on railroad history. The interpretive displays tell the stories of Union Pacific, Bailey Yard, and North Platte, and how they all intertwine to create this one-of-a-kind destination for railroad buffs.
2. Brownville Depot and Railroad History Museum, Brownville
Although small - like most of the many museums in this tiny village - the railroad museum packs in a lot of information. The restored 1875 depot and caboose tell all about the railroad's close relationship with the town in Nebraska's earliest days.
There are no regular opening hours here; call (402) 825-6001 to set up an appointment to visit.
3. Cody Park Railroad Museum, North Platte
North Platte sure does love its railroad history, and for good reason: it's a railroad town that has had a close relationship with the trains since its very earliest days.
The fantastic museum at Cody Park includes a restored depot, railroad cars, and two of the largest locomotives ever built by Union Pacific. The steam locomotive, a Challenger 3900 series, is the only one of its kind on public display anywhere. The museum will open for the season on May 1st.
4. Durham Museum, Omaha
Housed in the truly grand Union Station, the Durham Museum tells the story of Omaha's relationship with the railroad (among many, many other stories). One of the highlights is walking through and exploring three magnificently preserved railroad cars, a caboose, and an 1890 steam locomotive. The huge model train display is so fascinating you might have trouble dragging yourself away.
5. Greenwood Depot Museum, Greenwood
This cozy little restored depot is the oldest railroad museum in Cass County. It's small, but it has some fascinating information about the history of the railroad in Nebraska.
6. Lincoln County Historical Museum, North Platte
Yep, another North Platte destination. This one is part of the truly impressive Lincoln County Historical Museum's Western Heritage Village. Plan to spend an entire day here, because there's much more to see than just the railroad exhibit.
The museum tells the story of the Union Pacific Railroad in North Platte, but even more fascinating is the story of the North Platte Canteen. Exhibits and historical items illustrate this heartwarming part of Nebraska's history which was only possible thanks to the railroad.
7. Rock Island Depot Museum, Fairbury
This fantastic transportation history museum tells the story of Fairbury as the division headquarters for the Rock Island Railroad. The town and the railroad were dependent on one another way back then, and the stories you'll learn at this museum are definitely worth the trip.
8. Stuhr Museum Railroad Town, Grand Island
This awesome living history town opens on May 1st, and when it does, you'll be transported back to the year 1896. Visiting is just like walking through a 19th century railroad town, with historians and volunteers dressed in period attire and demonstrating the professions of the long-ago time. This is a seriously fun time for the entire family, and a great way to learn about the impact the railroad has always had in Nebraska.
9. Trails & Rails Museum, Kearney
Climb aboard the Baldwin Steam Engine No. 481, built in 1903, or the Union Pacific caboose from the 1940s. It's not the most extensive amount of train history you'll find in Nebraska, but it does explore the area's historical significance to both the historic trails - Oregon, Mormon, and California - and the railroads. And there's plenty more to see beyond the railroad items.
The role of railroads in Nebraska has changed significantly over the years, but they continue to be an important part of our commerce and our heritage. Visiting these museums is like stepping back in time to when the rails were essential to the state’s success.