About The National Railway Historical Society

About Us

Leading the way in rail preservation while there’s still time

Nobody questions the importance of our railways to the history of America, and yet our shared legacy is being threatened by rust, dust, the passage of time and neglect. With its roots in the past and its eyes on the future, the NRHS is transforming rail preservation in the U.S.

The National Railway Historical Society supports train, railway and station preservation projects with hundreds of thousands of dollars awarded in Heritage Grants, as well as education, photographic archives, events, publishing, standards definition and shared resources. The NRHS is a non-profit section 501(c)(3) organization, and contributions are tax-deductible.

The Internet and social media are allowing the NRHS to broaden our reach at the very moment that the threat of loss of irreplaceable history makes our mission more crucial than ever. While we’ve always looked to the future with programs like RailCamp, the original rail-oriented youth education program in the US, we are now embracing the need to become a clearinghouse of shared resources and opportunities for all rail preservation efforts in the US. From defining preservation standards to funding grass roots preservation projects, from archiving historic train photos to creating a centralized location where the entire rail preservation community can work together, the new NRHS is on track and heading into the future.

A Little History: The Beginning of Rail Preservation in America

The NRHS was founded in 1935 by a group of rail historians. It has since grown from 40 founding members to include over 13,000 men and women of all ages and professions in every state and many foreign countries, making it the nation's largest rail preservation and historical society.

The original society was formed as a consolidation of two of the earliest railfan clubs in the US, the Lancaster (PA) Railway & Locomotive Historical Society and the Interstate Trolley Club of Trenton NJ. The official goal of the new society: "to preserve steam and electric railway historical material; to encourage the building of model railways; to secure data on the history of transportation; and to encourage rail transportation. "

Lancaster and New York were the first two chapters. The first issue of the Bulletin was published in January 1936 and that year two more chapters were added -- Baltimore and Philadelphia. By the start of World War II there were 16 chapters spread from Boston to Pittsburgh, and at the 25-year mark the roster had increased to 41, with chapters as far away as Florida and the West Coast. By the end of 1985, the Society's 50th year, a total of 146 chapters could be found from New England to Hawaii, and membership exceeded 13,000 for the first time. By September 2010, the NRHS had over 160 chapters supporting the efforts of rail preservation in America.

NRHS Conferences: Combining the business of rail preservation with the fun of exploration

The NRHS holds two or three Conferences every year at various locations around the country, open to all our members. The Spring and Fall Conferences are usually 3-day events combining NRHS business meetings and rail preservation seminars with opportunities to visit regional railway and historical sites, learn about various aspects of an area’s railway heritage, and take your own historic railway pictures. The Winter Conferences are primarily business meetings without planned activities, although some of them are held in areas of historical significance to facilitate individual exploration.