Colorado Railroad Museum Gearing up for State’s 150th Anniversary in 2026
Railroads Played a Vital Role in Colorado’s Economic Growth; New Strategic 10-Year Plan Developed to Establish the History of Railroading in Centennial State
GOLDEN, COLO—January 17, 2024….Colorado would not have become a state in 1876 if it were not for its railroads, says Paul Hammond, executive director of the Colorado Railroad Museum.
The State Capital, Denver, is located halfway between Chicago and San Francisco, which made it one of the most isolated U.S. cities in 1876. The only permanent transportation links to the outside world were steel rails stretching off to the city’s north, east and south horizons, supplemented by telegraph wires for sending messages.
With Colorado’s upcoming Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of statehood approaching, the Colorado Railroad Museum, a nonprofit educational organization founded in Golden, Colorado, in 1959, seeks to highlight the importance of the railroad in transforming Colorado in the years since. Overcoming the state’s rugged terrain and challenging weather, the railroad was key to providing access to remote corners of Colorado. This access encouraged settlement, development and mobility patterns, molding the distinctive character of the Centennial State we cherish today.
“For 65 years, the Museum has been preserving and sharing locomotives, railroad cars and railroad history on its 15-acre site. It has introduced new generations to the thrill of railroading through events such as THE POLAR EXPRESS™, Day Out With Thomas™, weekend train rides, and periodic weekend steam-ups featuring living, breathing steam locomotives,” Hammond said. The Museum boasts an unmatched collection of narrow gauge and standard gauge locomotives, passenger and freight cars. And thanks to a half mile loop of track, it is also able to offer year-round rides aboard a variety of passenger cars pulled by both historic steam and diesel locomotives. Another favorite for riders is the “Galloping Goose,” a converted, 1920s Pierce-Arrow limousine on railroad wheels that once served a remote mining region in southwestern Colorado.
And while the Museum has done a commendable job of collecting, preserving, and sharing railroad history, it has also grown to become (according to Visit Denver research) one of the top ten paid attractions in metro Denver. Hammond says there is much more that needs to be done, particularly given that there’s so much more to share. “Railroad history is Colorado history, and it’s impossible to imagine Colorado’s growth and status without railroads,” he says. Hence, this new Strategic Plan that sets forth a 10-year vision for the Museum.
“Our railroading-themed family events like THE POLAR EXPRESS™ and Day Out With Thomas™ have exposed new generations to railroading, but these events can also push the Museum’s existing grounds and facilities, particularly parking capabilities, to their limits. Our historic rail cars have been lovingly cared for, but they have been exhibited outdoors and are slowly deteriorating. When steam locomotives and railroad cars need repairs and overhauling, we have to do this work in our own Roundhouse, which lacks enough room to carry out multiple projects simultaneously,” Hammond says.
On top of the challenges of historic preservation, there are changing demographics to consider. “Most of our younger guests today have never ridden a train, let alone have any first-hand knowledge of railroads. Yet just a couple generations ago, the typical American family had railroaders found somewhere in their family tree. Can you imagine a world without efficient transportation and fast communications? That’s the history that we want to share with the broadest possible audience going forward,” says Hammond.
To continue the legacy of the Colorado Railroad Museum and prepare for its importance during Colorado’s 150th anniversary in 2026, the Museum has created a new strategic 10-year plan that includes:
- Providing a dramatically enhanced visitor experience, starting with relocated and expanded parking, an all-new entry experience with a spacious Welcome Center and exhibition spaces, and ongoing live and hands-on interpretive experiences along with an improved Railyard touring experience
- Increased focus on improved collections care, with a new Library and Collections facility providing needed storage space for a growing collection, as well as improving access for researchers, along with more covered storage for the many locomotives and cars in the Museum’s collection
- Improved onsite self-tour experiences featuring access to additional online content highlighting displayed locomotives and cars, more live-rail experiences (operating trains that guests can see and ride) both onsite and offsite, and a continued focus on guests engaging with scale model railroading
- An expanded focus on community outreach, with schools and universities, historical and cultural organizations, and other groups being engaged both on-site and offsite
All of this, Hammond says, will require increased resources. The Museum broke attendance and revenue records in 2023, and for several years has focused on accessibility by adding new paved walkways and train access. The organization recently purchased an adjacent 4+ acre parcel of land, ending unwanted plans for a proposed housing development while allowing for potential future expansion and programs. But that is just the start.
Hammond says, “As it begins its 65th year in Golden, the Colorado Railroad Museum is excited to be taking the first steps toward an even brighter future. We have a lot of work ahead to achieve the vision spelled out in our new Strategic Plan, but I’m confident in this institution’s ability to grow and change while continuing to achieve its mission of preserving and sharing
Colorado’s rich railroad heritage. We look forward to sharing more about our progress in the coming months and years.”