No. 177: The Latvia Railway History Museum

About a month before leaving Germany I took the family on a week-long vacation to Oslo, Norway. On the way we stopped for a few days in Riga, the capital of Latvia, and we absolutely loved it.

Imagine my surprise when–riding a trolley from the airport to our center-city Airbnb–we passed right by something that looked a whole lot like a railroad museum. Sure enough, it was the Latvia Railway History Museum and it was about a mile from our apartment. I went to the museum the next day.

The museum is small, with collection with small locomotives, a model layout, and a lot of memorabilia indoors in an old car barn. The big stuff is all outside–a collection of 40 well-preserved locomotives and pieces of rolling stock. It was great fun and I hope you enjoy the coverage.

Surprisingly there were a lot of Americans in Riga and several of them were in the museum. I heard later that cruise ships tie up here for a day and that’s how all the Americans get here.

The engine pictured above is a Soviet class TE-3 locomotive, built in Kolomna, Russia in the 1960s. It is a heavy freight engine. Compare this to the SD-45, which was first built for American railroads in 1965. This TE-3 would look pretty cool in Seaboard Coast Line stripes.

Above. Here’s a map of the Latvian system. Riga is in the center on the coast.

Below. Inside the museum is a great collection of handcars, signals, and memorabilia. Also included is a huge, automated HO scale layout. The layout was very nice, with catenary and steam and electric locomotives pulling sounds-equipped trains on around on large loops. Check out the station scene below–the layout was thoughtfully built and very prototypical.

Below. This control station was removed from a station in Riga and brought here. Doesn’t that green color remind you of something you’d find in old Soviet Russia?

Below. This is an A class TEP-60 passenger engine, built at the Kolomna Electric Works the former USSR in the mid-1970s, and used for decades in Latvia.

Here’s one of the coolest engines in the collection, below. This is a TE-3, built is the “Riga Wagon Works” in 1966. It looks a lot like a U.S. doodlebug and trailer from the 1920s. Check out those trolley doors!

Below. This is a TEM-2 heavy switcher, built in Russia in 1971. The sign said 10,000 TEM-2s were built by 1971 and were “Soviet Russian copies of ALCO RSC locomotives”.

Below. I didn’t pick up any information on this engine, but an online source said it’s a Class VL-26 electric cargo locomotive, built in 1967 for the Murmansk Railroad in St Petersburg. In addition to picking up power from overhead it has battery packs that allow it to move for short distances on non-electrified tracks. Supposedly, “VL” in the locomotive name stands for “Vladimir Lenin”. The engine was used for a short while in Riga and retired there, and saved for the museum.

Below. Here is the rock star of the outdoor collection. This is a German Type 52 2-10-0 Kriegslokomotive, or War Locomotive, built at Henschel Works in Kassel in 1942. During the war Germany built 7,800 simplified 2-10-0s like this one in just 2-1/2 years. This particular engine was captured by the Russians after the war, re-gauged to Russian five-foot gauge, and put into service in the Soviet “Western Region” which including Belarus, the Baltic States, and Ukraine. It was under steam in Latvia until 1992 when Latvia gained its independence from Russia, then retired, re-gauged and held aside for the museum. What a history!

Below. This is a Russian Class L engine and was the largest steam engine regularly used on the post-World War II Baltic Railways. It is a 2-10-0, and was built in Voroshilovgrad, Russia between 1945 and 1949.

Below. This is a former German house car from the World War I era that has been restored by the museum. According to the museum all they found were the wheels, underframe and metal parts and rebuilt the rest from original plans. It is decorated in World War II-era markings.

Who says there’s no prototype for the horn-hook coupler? This coupler is on a Russian railway crane elsewhere in the museum. Maybe the Russkies copied this from an old Mantua model.

After leaving the museum I hiked back to our apartment in mid-town Riga. On the way I stopped on a big bridge over the Daugava River and took some pictures of Riga’s Soviet-era trolleys that are still in service. I took this photo on the bridge…

…and I took this photo at the stop by the railroad museum. The two cars are a little bit different, but interesting in a vintage Eastern European way.

I hope you enjoyed the little museum stop. The museum’s website can be found at

After Riga we flew to Norway and stayed there a week in a little cottage on a fjord south of Oslo. It was lovely and quiet there. I had planned to go to the Norway National Railway Museum, but it was a 2-1/2 train ride from our Airbnb and I didn’t want to leave the family for a while day. On our last night there, however, I made a brief stop at the NMJ Hobby Shop on the southeastern side of Oslo.

I didn’t know what to expect but I quickly found out that NMJ Norway’s largest model train store. It is literally the Caboose Hobbies of Norway–a massive store full of models, parts, paint, railroadiana, and inspiration.

There are cases and cases of brass locomotives of all types. The engines pictures below are Norwegian prototypes–brass, with full sound and DCC already installed.

The store was a few minutes from closing when I got there, but the owner–Finn Moe–and I hit it off right away. He spoke perfect English; he said he spoke five languages so he could keep up with all his customers. He kept the shop and we talked for an hour, and he took me on a complete tour of the store and explained everything to me. There are prototype railway signs, builders plates, lanterns, and railroadiana everywhere. It was really great!

Like most model shops in Europe, NMJ is full of dioramas. Here’s a different take on steam engine modeling…

Finally, here I am, below, with my new best friend Finn Moe. Finn is the owner of three NMJ stores–there are other stores in Sweden and Koln, Germany). What a gentleman he is. Finn explained that he spent a career in the plastics business and slowly built up the shop on the side. He retired years ago and now runs the shop full time. He develops and imports all the brass and a huge line of highly-detailed plastic rolling stock, and probably a lot more stuff he didn’t mention. Seriously, not only does he run Norway’s version of Caboose Hobbies but he also stocks it as Norway’s version of Overland Models, Walthers and Intermountain.

This place is worth a trip to Oslo by itself. I could’a spent the whole week there.

The NMJ main website is

Hope you guys have a great week! – John G

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