The California State Railroad Museum (California State Railway Museum) is an international museum within the California State Parc System. It’s located on 111 I Street in Old Sacramento.
The museum features 21 restored locomotives and railroad cars, some of them dating back to 1862. The “Sierra Scene” shows a large-scale mock-up of a high-rise construction scene in the Sierra Nevada representing the Donner Pass circa 1867, featuring the Gov. Stanford locomotive. Other exhibits show how the influence of railroads has changed American society, affecting travel, commerce and daily life, as well as the lives of railroaders and the diversity of people who work on railroads. Changing exhibitions featuring photographs, ephemera and artifacts from the museum’s collection add depth and incidental information to the overall history of railroads.
The Museum has a comprehensive educational program for elementary students from all over the region to help them learn about the history of railroads through re-enactments, costumed teachers, including train and hand-car rides. The museum’s roundhouse area features a rotating display of locomotives and equipment belonging to the museum. If not shown, these items are stored and worked in the nearby Sacramento Railyards in the remaining buildings that were part of the original Southern Pacific Shop complex. The museum also houses a large 3-rail O-gauge train model layout.
Adjacent to the main museum building is the reconstruction of the Central Pacific Railway Passenger Station and Freight Depot on Front Street in the 1870s, which houses historic and contemporary railway equipment. At the beginning of 2011, the interior remained closed for public use, but is occasionally open for special events. Between April and October, the Sacramento Southern Railroad, operated by the museum, will take passengers on a 40-minute, 6-mile (9.7 km) round trip along the Sacramento River on the Walnut Grove branch of the former Southern Pacific Railroad.
The Sacramento Southern Railroad is owned by the Walnut Grove Branch, which extends south from Sacramento along the eastern bank of the Sacramento River. A few miles of track was rebuilt along the levee near Freeport, California, as part of the US Army Corps of Engineers project. The CSRRM hopes that one day there will be a longer excursion route, perhaps as far as Hood, California. At that location, passengers could disembark on the train and take a tourist steamboat back up the Sacramento River to Old Sacramento.
The museum originated in 1937, when a group of rail enthusiasts formed the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in the San Francisco Bay Area. For years , the organization has been working to promote the idea of a railroad museum, donating 30 historic locomotives and cars to the California Department of Parks and Recreation to be the nucleus of the state-owned museum in Sacramento. The Museum’s first facility, the Central Pacific Railway Passenger Station, opened in 1976. The Railroad History Museum was closed down in 1981.
Steam-powered passenger rail service on the Sacramento Southern Railroad began in 1984, with the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot opening three years later. In 1992, the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown was added to the museum complex. The museum became a Smithsonian subsidiary in June 2017.