Washington State History Museum’s Model Train Festival opens Dec. 20.


Take a journey through the marvelously detailed world of model trains! The Washington State History Museum’s 24th Annual Model Train Festival rolls into town Friday, Dec. 20 and runs through Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 (open New Year’s Day, but closed Dec. 24-25). 

The Model Train Festival brings railroad clubs from around Puget Sound to share their incredible layouts. Every floor of the Museum comes alive with trains, from the Kitsap Live Steamers 7.5 inch gauge railroad engines to the Mount Rainier N-Scale layout featuring miniature scenery of Western Washington and so many more. The state’s largest permanent model train layout is always on display at the museum, operated by Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers. Train operators will be on hand for questions and conversation. Kids can make their own train creations in the South Sound Magazine Activity Room while their grown-ups join in the fun or relax on the sidelines. 

Meet Santa and get free photos from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 21-23.

Don’t miss the chance to step up and drive the Freight Train Simulator, too! The simulator debuted in 2018 and will be back for another run with all new virtual reality tracks and scenery. “Visitors had a great time with the freight train simulator last year. How often do you get to drive a train? It’s a unique experience. It is eye-opening too in regard to safety around train tracks,” said Mark Sylvester, director of museum support services. Operation Lifesaver will join in the festival to educate the public about safety at railroad highway crossings.

New to the festival this year, a print-making activity in the Write253 Pop Up Print Shop. Visitors can try their hand at a printing press to make a free small take-home print. Printers and artists will be on hand to facilitate. A limited edition train-related print will be available for sale with proceeds supporting the nonprofit Write253’s literacy programs.

The Model Train Festival wouldn’t be complete without Santa. Meet this kind gentleman and get your free photos from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21 through Monday, Dec. 23. This special Santa is adept at working with little ones who might be fearful of the costume. 

Sunday, Dec. 22 is TeenTix day. Youth who are registered with TeenTix can get in for just $5 with their Teen Tix card. The museum will also welcome Culture Kids card holders with free admission.

“Every year our staff really look forward to Model Train Festival. We love seeing the delight and joy on visitors’ faces and watching the children become so engaged with the trains and railroad history,” said Molly Wilmoth, lead programs manager. “The Model Train Festival is an annual holiday tradition for many families, and it makes for an especially memorable activity for those who have family or friends in town. It warms our hearts to see all of the second generation visitors – people who came as kids and are now continuing the tradition with their own children. The sounds of the trains and happy visitors fill the galleries. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the Historical Society’s railroad artifacts and the significant railroad history in this part of the country.”

In addition to the model trains, in the Great Hall of Washington History visitors can see artifacts and find out more about how the railroads influenced growth and development in Washington State. You’ll hear some tap-tapping at the Telegraph – Morse Code Club’s interactive display chronicling the history of the telegraph as it relates to railroading. The Tacoma Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) will be on-site too.

Members get their own appreciation night during the festival. “Last year’s Members Appreciation Celebration was so popular that we’re doing it again this year. Santa will be here, and members will enjoy exclusive evening access to the model trains, holiday treats, print-making and crafts on the evening of Dec. 21,” said Julia White, membership coordinator. Not a member? Visit WashingtonHistory.org/support to find out about membership. 

Bring the railroad buffs and train lovers in your life to the Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, for this annual celebration of holiday cheer and history. Details at www.ModelTrainFestival.org.

Model railroad clubs and exhibitors include: Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers, Boeing Model Railroad Club, National Model Railroad Association Pacific Northwest Region Division 4 HO and Division 4 NTRAK, Mount Rainier N-Scale, Pierce County Lionel Train Club, Kitsap Live Steamers, National Railway Historical Society – Tacoma Chapter, Telegraph-Morse Code Club, and Operation Lifesaver.


The Model Train Festival is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 20-Jan. 1, except for Dec. 24 and 25 when it will be closed.


  • Free for Washington State Historical Society members
  • Family rate $40 (up to two adults and four children under age 18)
  • Adults $14 (age 18 and over) 
  • Seniors (age 65+), students, active and retired military (with proof of service) $11
  • Free for children ages 5 and under
  • Free for Culture Kids cardholders
  • $5 admission for TeenTix cardholders on Sunday, Dec. 22
  • Washington Quest EBT Cardholders (card required) and Washington Foster Parents (with foster license and I.D.): admission is $1/person and $2/family

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