Great Train Story Diorama – Chicago, Illinois - Atlas Obscura

Great Train Story Diorama

Museum of Science and Industry

This $3 million model train takes you through Chicago, Seattle, and the thousands of miles in between. 


Stretched across a 3,500 square foot “S” shaped table “The Great Train Story” takes visitors from Chicago across the plain states and over the Rockies all the way to the Port of Seattle. This huge model train set cost $3.5 million dollars and opened to the public in 2002 at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The exhibit focuses on the intersection of transportation infrastructure and economic activity—the intercity elevated train, suburban commuter rail, and cross country freight lines, all buzzing with a vibrant post-WWII industrial economy of decades past.

The trip begins in Chicago, which is the most recognizable area to a contemporary visitor. Iconic buildings like the Sears Tower and downtown neighborhoods like the Loop are shown in a spellbinding level of detail, replete with miniature cars, pedestrians and vegetation. Tiny electric trains scoot around through the skyscraper valleys and every half hour the museum lights dim as the exhibit enters “nighttime mode.”

Outside of Chicago The Great Train Story enters a fictionalized abstraction of the prairie and plain states. Train tracks shoot across the flat checkerboard corn fields, past grain silos and small towns that recall nostalgic Bruce Springsteen verses.

As the exhibit moves westward five foot tall Rocky Mountain peaks rise into the air. The tracks cut through mountain tunnels and lumber towns before finally catching sight of the Pacific Ocean and the Port of Seattle. A hulking container ship is docked on the coast, ready to receive the raw materials and manufactured products collected along the 2,000 mile route from Chicago.

Know Before You Go

The Museum of Science and Industry is open 9:30 am to 4:00 pm. The exhibit is free to view, but the museum requires admission tickets.

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