With lots of planes, trains and automobiles, the Virginia Museum of Transportation preserves and interprets the history of transportation in Virginia. The Railwalk open air exhibit takes visitors through time and railway history with interpretive panels along a path that follows today's rail lines cutting through downtown Roanoke. The spectacular Rail Yard features historic engines, cabooses, and rail equipment. Here you can see vintage steam trains as well as modern diesel locomotives and electric trains. Several other exhibits are included with the price of admission to the museum including model trains, miniature ships, vintage automobiles, an aviation exhibit and a Big Lick Depot exhibit. The town of Big Lick grew and prospered around the railway depot in the mid-1800s. Wisely, the name was changed to Roanoke in 1882 as the town continued to grow and prosper as a railway hub.

The museum also features an exhibit entitled From Cotton to Silk: African American Railroad Workers of the Norfolk and Western and Norfolk and Southern Railways. African Americans played a vital role in the railroads serving as brakemen and switchmen and in the exacting work of laying and maintaining track. The railroad provided skilled jobs and good salaries to African Americans, and with the advent of the Civil Rights Era, these men became eligible for engineering and managerial positions.

roanoke railwalk

The Railwalk open air exhibit takes visitors on a journey through railway history in Virginia and leads to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Your best bet to tour the Virginia Museum of Transportation is to begin at the start of the David R. and Susan S. Goode Railwalk and follow the signs and painted train tracks to the museum complex. The signs along the way tell the history of the railroads in Virginia. When you reach the museum, you will want to visit the Rail Yard with its impressive collection of vintage and modern trains and the other exhibits as your time and interest allows. The museum is located in downtown Roanoke within walking distance of the O. Winston Link Museum and Taubman Museum of Art as well as numerous shops and restaurants in the City Market area. The Railwalk and the Rail Yard as well as most of the indoor exhibit areas of the museum are suitable for mobility devices.

Pictured at the very top: The ALCO RS-3 diesel electric locomotive built in 1955 is on display in the Rail Yard of the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

virginia museum of transportation the 6

This circa 1897 steam engine was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works and was acquired by Norfolk and Western in 1920. The 6 was hand-fired by manually shoveling coal into the boiler and hauled livestock to western Virginia until 1955.

virginia museum of transportation panama canal mule 686

This Panama Canal Towing Locomotive 686 was one of a fleet of mule trains guiding the movements of vessels entering the Panama Canal. Moving at a top speed of 5 miles per hour, it took a dozen 686s to guide the battleship USS Missouri through the canal.

virginia museum of transportation the 1218

The 1218 was built in 1943 and hauled coal from Roanoke to Norfolk until 1959. The 1218 was photographed by famed photographer  O. Winston Link.

virginia museum of transportation the 1776 virginia museum of transportation the 1009

The 1776 was in service from 1970 to 1988 and was painted red, white and blue for the bicentennial. Nicknamed The Bluebird, the 1009 provided passenger service on the Wabash Railroad from 1951 to 1967.