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Historic Train Structure Will Be Re-Created In Lancaster County

Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

A state-owned railroad museum in Strasburg plans to build a $6.1 million roundhouse of the type used to service and repair locomotives during the glory days of American rail.

Director Charlie Fox of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania said the structure will provide shelter for the most significant pieces of the museum’s collection.

“We have taken the historical essence of old fashioned roundhouses, and we’re building a new exhibit building which will have most of those characteristics,” he said. “This will allow us to put six steam locomotives that were built by or for the Pennsylvania Railroad under cover.”

The roundhouse will be open to the public, and Fox said its look was chosen for that reason.

“These buildings were constructed in such a way to make maximum use of natural lighting,” he said. “So they really lend themselves quite well to the purposes of a railroad museum. So we’ll have a modern structure that still uses the old materials of brick and steel and glass.”  

When steam locomotives were the source of pulling power for railroads, roundhouses were a necessity. They provided a way for trains to be turned around and also provided an area for train mechanics to repair any damage.

When diesel locomotives became the more popular choice over steam in the late 1940s/1950s, roundhouses became functionally obsolete. Diesel engines don’t have to be turned around and are much easier to fix. Because of this, Fox estimates there are fewer than six roundhouses left in the state.

While the locomotives won’t be turned around, Fox says it will still be used as an area to refurbish locomotives.

“We will be restoring each of the locomotives that will be in the roundhouse in turn, and each of the restorations takes us about four or five years,” he said. “The first restoration is actually underway and will be complete about the time the roundhouse opens.”  

The museum is finalizing the design and then will open up construction bidding. Fox said the museum plans to break ground in the spring of next year on the 1,600-square-foot roundhouse and open it by late 2015.