Tucked away near the northwestern border of Pennsylvania, as far away as you can get from places like Philadelphia and Harrisburg while still staying in PA, is one of the state’s best destinations for train lovers: the Lake Shore Railway Museum.
Occupying the former New York Central Railroad Passenger Deport in the borough of North East, the Lake Shore Railway Museum is home to more than 25 train cars and engines. Most of these pieces were manufactured by General Electric at their plant in Erie County and were used throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.
Driving up to the museum is an impressive site. While many train museums keep their restored and historic pieces inside a covered building, like the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the train cars and engines at the Lake Shore Railway Museum are out in the open. While this might not be ideal from a preservation standpoint, it does make the museum quite impressive as you approach it.
The cars and engines on the property date from as late as the 1890s and as recent as 1989. Many of the pieces have been beautifully restored and maintained, but some still sit in disrepair. As money is available, the older trains are being restored and repainted to showcase their former glory.
While visiting, I especially enjoyed seeing a Dash-8 Norfolk Southern locomotive, which looks very similar to the engines that still pull freight trains today. As the only preserved example in the world, a visit is a great way to get a close up view of this beautiful engine.
Another piece I enjoyed was the Empire Builder sleeper and dining cars that sat next to each other at the museum. Visitors can check out the interiors of these cars and offer a great glimpse into what train travel was like in the 1950s.
What makes the Lake Shore Railway Museum so special, though, is that visitors are allowed to climb on and enter many of the engines, cars, and cabooses. According to Ryan Maxwell, the museum’s vice president, this is because “they don’t want to be a museum where you can’t touch”. This policy makes the museum an ideal stop for those who are young or young at heart and want to be able to walk through the restored cars and even sit at the controls of a real train engine.
Another great aspect of the museum is the train tracks that run alongside the museum. As a former passenger depot, it’s not a huge surprise that the museum sits close to the tracks, but what’s surprising is how busy the tracks are and how close you can get to the trains as they go by. During my visit, I was told that as many as 80 trains a day pass by the museum, making the tracks far busier than those at the famous Horseshoe Curve in Altoona.
Inside the passenger depot, the Lake Shore Railway Museum does feature a small indoor area with a gift shop and a few pieces of memorabilia related to the history of train transportation in the region. However, the main draw to the museum is the outdoor area.
Overall, I found the Lake Shore Railway Museum to be an amazing place for anyone who loves trains to visit. Their unique collection, the ability to wander train interiors, and the high-trafficked railroad tracks makes this museum an amazing destination for visitors to Erie County, Pennsylvania.
Note: The grounds of the Lake Shore Railway Museum are open dusk to dawn every day of the year, weather permitting. However, the trains and the passenger depot are only open to visitors during operating hours.
Lake Shore Railway Museum
Cost: Donations Appreciated
Address: 31 Wall Street