Put on a conductor's hat and prepare for a journey into the past. Without Plutonium, a DeLorean, or a crazy scientist, the four collections of trains at the Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati bring the history of locomotion to life. Walking through the Latonia rail yard, you encounter 80 full size equipment pieces from passenger, heavyweight, and freight trains. Side by side comparisons of the retired cars reveal the evolution of one of the most important infrastructure developments in U.S. history.
Today, especially in the Midwest, very few passenger trains operate. In the early and middle 20th century, however, passenger train service was a common form of transportation – for people and for mail. Competition made the service more efficient, increasingly comfortable, and less expensive. The Pennsylvania Railroad Passenger and B&O (Baltimore and Ohio) Railroad Passenger collections drive these points home.
Similar to commercial airlines now, passenger trains used to be a conduit for the United States Post Office. Post Office cars are lined with sorting racks, cancellation tables, and parcel bins as you would have seen around 1912 – the date of the oldest mail car in the fleet.
While mail cars were relatively uniform, passenger cars provided multiple options. With so many destinations offered, commuter cars could be broken down into local and sleeper cars and then further broken down in terms of amenities. The variety of cars allows great comparison and an interesting sociological interpretation of how competition breeds ingenuity.
Unlike passenger service, freight service is still abundantly used in the U.S. Because freight is so heavily dominated by commodities, you see cars that are still used for transporting these materials. It's fun to analyze the various cars and guess what they carry. One noticeable difference between modern and historic freight cars is the location of braking systems. Modern cars use air-brakes, but generations ago, hand operated brakes on the cars' roofs were used. Upon hearing a whistle signal from the locomotive, the brakeman would have to move from roof to roof operating each brake wheel. The imposing sizes of the cars makes that job seem unenviable when motionless; imagine it in action!
No cars would move if it weren't for the locomotive. Depending on the cargo weight, destination, and desired speed, locomotives have distinct features and are powered by various sources of energy. When you enter the lead car, the intensity required to operate such massive vessels is evident; the museum's locomotives include diesel to steam engines. Additionally astonishing are their operational intricacies. There is a lot more that goes into being a conductor than staying awake and making sure the train stays on the tracks.
For the most effective viewing experience, a printed walking tour guide is provided. Customized tours and social events are available by appointment. The museum is almost entirely outdoors; there are few protected areas, so dress appropriate to the weather. However, a shaded, grassy park directly outside the entrance provides picnic tables and a grill for some atmospheric relief.
Would Cincinnati be the same without railroads? Probably not. Would America? Doubtful. The railroads' peak may be in the past, but just because they have slipped from modern consciousness doesn't mean they are dead. The Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati does an exemplary job of bringing a practical understanding of their development and lasting importance to its patrons.
- Wednesday and Saturday: 10am to 4pm
- Note: For safety, the museum is closed during severe weather conditions.
- Adults: $4
- Children (10 and under): $2
- Groups: Contact for museum for rates and information.
- Note: For safety, minors must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
- Location: 315 W. Southern Avenue, Covington, KY
- Phone: 513-574-7672
- Website: cincirailmuseum.org