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August 25, 2018

"Getting There" - The Danbury Railway Museum

Looking for a summer day-trip to find some fun which teaching your kids about transportation?  Just hop a Metro-North train (or drive, if you must) to Danbury to visit the Danbury Railway Museum.

I usually find railway museums a bit depressing as they tend to be dusty monuments to the past.  But not this one.  Not only do they have a beautifully curated collection of memorabilia, but they are still a working railroad!

Housed in a beautifully restored 1903 railroad station (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the museum was opened in the 1990’s after the building was abandoned by CDOT in favor of a newer Metro-North station a few hundred yards away serving the Danbury branch line.

At its peak the station saw 125 trains a day.  Today it serves about a dozen Metro-North trains to South Norwalk and GCT, all of them push-pull diesel consists.  Fun fact:  did you know that the Danbury line was once electrified, just like the main line?

Danbury is also served by the old Maybrook / Beacon Line running west to the city of the same name on the Hudson River.  Today the line is still used occasionally by Metro-North to transfer locomotives to its Croton-Harmon yards for servicing.

Danbury’s major industry, hat making, drew thousands of migrant workers and is celebrated by a Metro-North passenger car emblazoned with the name “The Danbury Hatter” you might see on the branch.

Inside the delightfully air conditioned station the museum offers a great orientation video showing the mighty New Haven & Hartford RR at its peak, carrying both passengers and freight.  There are also several model train layouts (in five different scales) that kids can operate at the push of a button.  You’ll also find a wonderful collection of railroad flatware and china from the New Haven’s glory days of posh dining cars.

In a tip o’ the conductor’s hat to more recent railroadiana, the museum has acquired parts of the old Solari departure board from New Haven, though it has yet to be returned to full functionality.  Still, it’s nice someone preserved it.

But the highlight of the museum’s collection will be found outside in its rail yard. There you’ll find more than 70 railcars and locomotives which you can tour (in the summertime) on a half hour train ride.  Tickets are $3 for a ride in a coach or the caboose. For $10 you can even ride in the diesel engine’s cab.

The train ride around the yard takes 20 minutes and shows you the museum’s 14 locomotives, 12 passenger cars and 26 freight cars.  The highlight of the ride is a visit to one of the last working turntables in New England.  Built in 1911, the 95-foot turntable would allow all but the largest in the New Haven’s locomotive fleet to enter one of nine stalls in an engine house, since demolished.

The museum also hosts kids’ birthday parties allowing hands-on inspection of the truly largest “boys’ toys” ever built.  Adults can also join the fun as the museum is run by dedicated volunteers.

Connecticut is lucky to have a number of great railroad and trolley museums, but this is my favorite… and the only one accessible by taking a train to get there.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media