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Norfolk and Western Railway class J (1941)

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The Norfolk and Western J class was a class of fourteen 4-8-4 (Northern) streamlined steam locomotives built by the railway's own Roanoke Shops located in Roanoke, Virginia from 1941 to 1950 and operated by the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) in revenue service until the late 1950s.

Norfolk & Western J Class (1941)
NW 611.jpg
Norfolk and Western No. 611 at Irondale, Alabama in 1993
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
BuilderRoanoke Shops
Build date1941–1950
Total produced14
 • Whyte4-8-4
 • UIC2′D2′ h2
Gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Driver dia.70 in (1,778 mm)
Length109 ft 2 in (33.27 m)
Height16 ft 2 in (4.93 m)
Axle load72,000 lb (32,658.7 kilograms; 32.7 tonnes) for drivers
Adhesive weight288,000 lb (130,634.6 kilograms; 130.6 tonnes)
Loco weight494,000 lb (224,074.6 kilograms; 224.1 tonnes)
Tender weight378,600 lb (171,730.1 kilograms; 171.7 tonnes)
Total weight872,600 lb (395,804.7 kilograms; 395.8 tonnes)
Fuel typeCoal
Fuel capacity70,000 lb (31,751.5 kilograms; 31.8 tonnes)
Water cap20,000 US gal (76,000 l; 17,000 imp gal)
25,000 US gal (95,000 l; 21,000 imp gal) in auxiliary tender
 • Firegrate area
107.7 sq ft (10.01 m2)
Boiler pressure300 lbf/in2 (2.07 MPa)
Heating surface:
 • Tubes and flues
4,693 sq ft (436.0 m2)
 • Firebox578 sq ft (53.7 m2)
 • Heating area2,177 sq ft (202.2 m2)
Cylinder size27 in × 32 in (686 mm × 813 mm)
Valve gearBaker
Valve typePiston valves
Performance figures
Maximum speed110 mph (177 km/h)
Power output5,300 hp (4,000 kW)
Tractive effort80,000 lbf (355.86 kN)
Factor of adh.3.39
OperatorsNorfolk and Western RailwayNorfolk Southern Railway
Number in class14
Retired1958–1959 (revenue)
1994 (611's first excursion service)
Restored1981–1982 (611's 1st restoration)
2014–2015 (611's 2nd restoration)
Current ownerVirginia Museum of Transportation (611)
DispositionOne preserved (611), remainder scrapped

These locomotives were built to run on the N&W main line between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio, pulling the Powhatan Arrow, Pocahontas, and Cavalier passenger trains as well as ferrying the Southern Railway's Birmingham Special, Pelican, and Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. The Js along with the Class ‘A’ and ‘Y’ freight steam locomotives were embodied as Norfolk and Western's "The Big Three" and represented the pinnacle of steam technology.

Only one locomotive, No. 611 survive today. It was retired in 1959 from revenue passenger service and moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) in 1962. In 1982, Norfolk Southern restored the locomotive to operating condition for excursion service as it became the star of their steam program pulling excursions throughout the eastern United States. No. 611 was retired again in 1994 and moved back to the VMT. In 2013, the VMT formed a campaign called Fire Up 611! to return No. 611 to excursion service in mid 2015.




The first J's had 275 psi boilers, 70-inch (1,778 mm) driving wheels, and roller bearings on all wheels and rods; after 1945 boiler pressure was raised to 300 psi (2,100 kPa).[1] Calculated tractive effort was 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg) – the most powerful 4-8-4 without a booster. The 70-inch drivers were small for a locomotive that was able to pull trains at over 100 mph (160 km/h).[1] To overcome this, the wheelbase was made extremely rigid, lightweight rods were used, and the counterbalancing was precise.[1]

As delivered, the Js had a duplex (two) connecting rods between the primary (second) and third drivers, but in the 1950s Norfolk and Western's engineers deemed these unnecessary.[1] The 611 and several others of the Class were rebuilt with a single connecting rod.[1] The negative effect of the J's highly engineered powertrain was that it made the locomotives sensitive to substandard track.[1] While on loan in late 1945, No. 610 hauled a 1,025 t (2,259,738.2 pounds; 1,025,000.0 kilograms) passenger train with 15 cars at speeds in excess of 110 mph (180 km/h) over Pennsylvania Railroad's "racetrack", the Fort Wayne Division (a section of flat, straight track).[1][2]


The first batch of four locomotives were built and delivered between October 1941 and January 1942. The second batch of five locomotives were delivered in 1943 without shrouding and lightweight side rods, due to the limitations on the use of certain materials during the war; they were classified J1. When N&W showed the War Production Board the reduced availability numbers because of this, the Board allowed the J1s to be re-fitted as Js with the lightweight rods and shrouding in 1945. The last batch of three locomotives were all rolled out in Summer 1950, marking the last steam passenger locomotives built in the United States.[3]

Table of orders and numbers[4]
Quantity Serial Nos. Year built N&W No. Notes
5 311–315 1941-1942 600-604 No. 604 had a booster on its trailing truck.
6 347–352 1943 605-610 Originally built without streamlining shrounds.
3 388–390 1950 611-613 No. 611 in excursion service.[5]

Revenue serviceEdit

The class Js pulled the network's prominent passenger trains, such as the Powhatan Arrow, Pocahontas, and Cavalier between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as ferrying Southern Railway's Birmingham Special, Pelican, and Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. Despite their power and speed, the class Js were among the most reliable engines, running as many as 15,000 miles (24,000 km) per month, even on the mountainous and relatively short route of the N&W.

There is one notable accident in the J class's service history, when on January 23, 1956, No. 611 derailed along the Tug River near Cedar, West Virginia while pulling The Pocahontas.[1] It was determined that the engineer ran the engine at an excessive speed around a curve and its high center of gravity caused it to flip on its side.[1] The 611 was repaired and continued revenue passenger service.[1]

In the late 1950s, N&W began purchasing first generation diesel locomotives, experimenting with fuel and maintenance cost. They leased several sets of EMD E6s, E7s, E8s from the Atlantic Coast Line and Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroads. The diesels proved to be cheaper in maintenance and fuel cost, but several were required to equal the power of a steam locomotive. In the end, with steam parts suppliers closing because of other railroads switching to diesels, diesels prevailed and the clock began to tick until steam was retired. In 1958 and 1959, the railroad ran several Farewell To Steam excursions, with 611 pulling the last one in October 1959. While many of the locomotives went to the scrap lines, 611 was preserved. This was in part due to its superb condition after its 1956 derailment and subsequent repair, and also in part to the efforts of photographer O. Winston Link, who offered to purchase 611 himself rather than see it scrapped.[citation needed]

Accidents and incidentsEdit

  • On June 12, 1946, No. 604 hauled the eastbound Powhatan Arrow after departing Cincinnati, Ohio at 8:10 A.M. for Norfolk, Virginia.[6] But at 3:18 P.M., the locomotive derailed 4 miles west of Powhatan, West Virginia due to excessive speed at 56 mph killing engineer Grover C. “Nap” Roberts and fireman Beecher Lawson.[6] In addition, twenty-three passengers, three dining car employees, and one train service employee were also injured.[6]
  • In 1956, No. 611 derailed at Cedar, WV near the Tug River.[1]
  • On May 18, 1986, No. 611 was at the head of a Norfolk Southern employee appreciation train from Norfolk, Virginia, with Robert Claytor at the throttle.[7] One of the passenger cars failed to negotiate a switch on the main line through the Great Dismal Swamp, causing it and 12 other cars of the 23 car train to derail.[7] 177 of the nearly 1000 employees and their family members were injured; some of the more seriously injured had to be airlifted to hospitals in nearby Norfolk for treatment.[8]

Preservation and excursion serviceEdit

Due to the efforts of several men, including Link, the 611 was saved. The locomotive was donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in Roanoke, in 1962, where it sat dormant for two decades.[9]

In the early 1980s, Robert Claytor, president of Norfolk and Western in its last months, had his eye on 611. His brother, W. Graham Claytor, once president of the Southern Railway, was in charge of the railway's steam program. This program had been around since 1966 with MS Class 2-8-2 (Mikado) No. 4501, sending steaming ambassadors system wide. Robert Claytor envisioned a similar program for the N&W. He made a lease with the museum, and in 1981, 611 was sent to Southern Railway's Norris Yard Steam Shop in Birmingham, Alabama for an overhaul.[citation needed]

In 1982, 611 emerged under steam, with the only change being a dual beam headlight instead of the single bulb lamp it carried in the fifties, and effectively wound up replacing another locomotive, Southern 2716, which had its excursion career ended during the restoration of 611 due to firebox problems. Norfolk and Western and Southern Railway had by this time merged into Norfolk Southern; this now doubled the amount of track available for 611 to tour. 611's first trip was a ferry move up the Southern into Lynchburg, Virginia, and then over N&W home rails to Roanoke for a ceremony. In 1984, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers named 611 a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark and it has since been added to the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record.[7]

The steam program looked for a stronger locomotive to pull longer and heavier excursion train by welcoming another locomotive, former Norfolk & Western 1218, a simple articulated 2-6-6-4. The two continued to pull the systems' trains, with 611 even participating in a triple-header with N&W 1218 and Southern Railway 4501, until 1994, when another disastrous blow hit. In September 1994, there was a switching accident in Lynchburg, VA, involving the passenger cars of an excursion consist that 611 was about to pull the next day. This damaged several cars, causing a shortage and the consequent need for more cars. A month later, NS executives terminated the steam program due to rising insurance costs, increasing cost of maintenance, and low spare system capacity.

The last steam excursion was on December 3, 1994 from Birmingham, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee and back, pulled by 611.[10] The next day, 611 set off on a three-day trek home to Roanoke.[10] Between Salisbury, North Carolina and Roanoke, 611 displayed black flags on the last run of December 7.[10] That evening, upon arrival at Shaffer's Crossing in Roanoke, 611 had its fire put out for the last time in the 20th century.[10]

Post 1982-1994 excursion serviceEdit

In December 1994, 611 was put back in the museum, now known as the Virginia Museum of Transportation, under a new train shed. In 2003, a major renovation of the railyard brought a bigger train shed (The Robert B. Claytor and W. Graham Claytor Jr. Pavilion), and 611 was joined by twice former stable-mate, 1218.

As one of the last, most prominent, and most distinctive locomotives assembled in Roanoke, the 611 often serves as a symbol for Roanoke and its railroad history.[11] It is also depicted on the Commonwealth of Virginia's "Railway Heritage" license plate.

On April 2, 2012, The City of Roanoke officially donated both 611 & 1218 to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.[12]

Second restoration and excursionsEdit

Norfolk and Western No. 611 on the turntable at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina on May 23, 2015.

In 2011, the Norfolk Southern brought back their steam program, under the name 21st Century Steam, leading to speculation among some about a possible restoration of 611. On February 22, 2013, the Virginia Museum of Transportation formed a campaign called "Fire Up 611!" to conduct a feasibility study with the goal of returning the 611 to active service.[13][14]

On June 28, 2013, museum officials said that they would restore 611 if they could find the money.[15] The needed work includes repairing the engine truck, preparing a tool car and an auxiliary water tender, applying new safety appliances such as in-cab signals and an event recorder, installing new flues, boiler work, and hydro and fire testing, as well as test runs, inspection, and repairs of the tender, running gears, and air brakes.[15]Coordinates: 37°16′27″N 79°55′55″W / 37.27405°N 79.93202°W / 37.27405; -79.93202

On November 22, 2013, Norfolk Southern announced that they were donating $1.5 million of the proceeds from an auction of a Mark Rothko painting to the "Fire Up 611!" campaign.[16] In February 2014, several key appointments were made by the Fire Up 611 committee to the locomotive's mechanical team. The following month, a formal agreement was made with the North Carolina Transportation Museum for restoration. On April 1, 2014, it was announced that after raising $2.3 million, the locomotive would move to North Carolina on May 24, 2014. 611 arrived in Spencer on May 25 and took part in the Streamliners at Spencer event the following weekend. After the event, the restoration work on 611 began on June 2, 2014. The restoration was done with the help of volunteers, including several from the Age of Steam Roundhouse.[17] Due to the generally good condition of the locomotive, restoration was complete within a year.[citation needed]

On March 31, 2015, the 611 was fired up with its maximum working boiler pressure of 300 psi and the crew open the throttle up to blow steam out of the cylinders' piston valves.[18] The test fire was a complete success and the 611 was steamed up for the first time in twenty years.[18]

On May 21, 2015, 611 made a brief test run from Spencer to Greensboro, North Carolina, pulling her auxiliary tender and tool car along with eight Norfolk Southern passenger cars behind her.[19]

On May 28, 2015, the North Carolina Transportation Museum held photo runbys with 611 leading passenger and freight consists, plus night photo session.[20]

The locomotive was scheduled to run several excursions during the summer of 2015 such as "The American" from Manassas, Virginia to Front Royal, Virginia in June 6 and 7, "The Cavalier" from Lynchburg, Virginia to Petersburg, Virginia in June 13 and 14, "The Powhatan Arrow" from Roanoke to Lynchburg and "The Pelican" from Roanoke to Radford, Virginia in July 3, 4, and 5.[21]

On April 9, 2016, the 611 ran "The Virginian" from Spencer, NC to Lynchburg, VA and "The Blue Ridge Special" from Spencer, NC to Asheville, NC on the 10 that year.[22] On April 23 and 24, 2016, the locomotive ran "The Roanoker" from Greensboro, NC to Roanoke, VA. on the ex-Virginian Railway main line.[23]

On late spring 2016, the 611 ran the excursions that it did last year such as "The Powhatan Arrow", "The Pelican, and "The American".[24] After that, the 611 stayed at the North Carolina Transportation Museum for the summer and moved back to Roanoke on August 8 and back to Spencer again on September 7 until October 24.[25][26]

On December 21, 2016, the Virginia Museum of Transportation announced on their 611-page that the locomotive would return to the main line in 2017 with a schedule of public excursions.[27]

On January 6, 2017 the 611 returned to the North Carolina Transportation Museum under her own power for Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspection.[28] Afterwards, the locomotive ran "The Virginian" round-trip excursion again from Spencer, NC to Lynchburg, VA on April 8, 2017.[29] On April 9, the 611 ran "The Charlotte Special" round-trip excursion from Spencer to Charlotte, NC in the morning and a second round-trip excursion "The Piedmont Limited" from Spencer to Greensboro, North Carolina in the afternoon.[29]

In 2018, 611 was unable to perform any major excursions due to Amtrak's restrictions.[30] However, The Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) was able to put on alternate events for 611, and the locomotive made a visit to the North Carolina Transportation Museum for Maintenance. Moreover, the VMT is presently in negotiations and talks with various entities in order to set up excursions and events for 611. Presently, one key concern is the gradual introduction of PTC to the US railroad network, for which the VMT is asking for donations.[31]

As of 2019, No. 611 will visit the Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg, Pennsylvania in September and October for five weekends along with a reunion with another N&W steam locomotive, No. 475.[32][33]

In popular cultureEdit

The 611 was featured in a 2016 feature-length documentary called "611: American Icon" which represents the history of the locomotive and her restoration.[34]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "N&W 611 Class J Steam Locomotive National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark". ASME. May 1984. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  2. ^ Young (2017), p. 207
  3. ^ Drury (2015), p. 259.
  4. ^ Drury (2015), p. 261.
  5. ^ "N&W Class J 611". Trains. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c "The 1946 Wreck of N&W's Pride & Joy – The Powhatan Arrow". The Railroader's Daughter. August 17, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Wrinn (2000), pp. 73–77.
  8. ^ "Derailment of Steam Excursion Train Norfolk and Western Railway Company Train Extra 611". National Transportation Safety Board. May 18, 1986.
  9. ^ Allen, Mike (May 31, 2015). "History of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611". The Roanoke Times.
  10. ^ a b c d Wrinn (2000), pp. 102–105.
  11. ^ "Roanoke born. Roanoke bred. Roanoke proud". Norfolk & Western 611. Archived from the original on June 25, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  12. ^ Craft, John. "VA Museum of Transportation assumes full ownership of N&W 611, 1218". SteamCentral. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  13. ^ "The Virginia Museum of Transportation studying Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Restoration and Return to Excursion Service". Virginia's Blue Ridge. February 22, 2013. Archived from the original on January 6, 2018. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  14. ^ "The Committee". Fire Up 611!. Archived from the original on July 3, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Restoration of Norfolk & Western Railway Class J 611 Study Findings & Report". Fire Up 611!. Archived from the original on July 5, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  16. ^ "Norfolk Southern supports restoration of historic locomotive through sale of Rothko painting". Norfolk Southern. November 22, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  17. ^ Prepelka, Benjamin. "Virginia Transportation Museum". Scenic USA. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  18. ^ a b "VIDEO: Norfolk & Western 611 steam test: All systems go". Trains. April 1, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  19. ^ Wrinn, Jim (May 21, 2015). "Norfolk & Western No. 611 roars back onto the main line, but wye is a problem". Trains. Archived from the original on May 29, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  20. ^ "The NCTM says goodbye to the 611!". 611. Archived from the original on April 28, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  21. ^ "Upcoming Events". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on April 18, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  22. ^ "611 Spring Excursions". North Carolina Transportation Museum. Archived from the original on January 13, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  23. ^ "The Roanoker, Greensboro/Roanoke/Greensboro April 23 & 24". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on March 23, 2016. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  24. ^ ">> Excursion Tickets!<<". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on May 5, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  25. ^ "Special Events". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on June 12, 2016. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  26. ^ "Where is 611?". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on October 21, 2016. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  27. ^ "Excursions". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on December 22, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  28. ^ "Virginia Museum Of Transportation". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on January 24, 2017. Retrieved March 7, 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  29. ^ a b "#611 Excursions". North Carolina Transportation. Archived from the original on March 22, 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  30. ^ Wickline, Alison (June 18, 2018). "Popular 611 excursions stopped after change in Amtrak policy". WSLS-TV. Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  31. ^ "VMT Announces Alternate 611 Events in Place of Excursions". Fire Up 611!. June 16, 2018. Archived from the original on July 11, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  32. ^ "611 Visits Strasburg – A Reunion of Steam". Strasburg Rail Road. Archived from the original on April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  33. ^ "Strasburg adds more Norfolk & Western No. 611 events". Trains. March 28, 2019. Archived from the original on March 28, 2019. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  34. ^ "611: American Icon DVD". Museum Store Virginia Museum of Transportation. Retrieved March 11, 2017.


Further readingEdit

  • Hensley, Timothy B.; Miller, Kenneth L. (2016). Norfolk and Western Six-Eleven - 3 Times A Lady (1st ed.). Pocahontas Productions. ISBN 978-0-9899837-1-6.
  • Miller, Kenneth L. (2000). Norfolk and Western Class J: The Finest Steam Passenger Locomotive (1st ed.). Roanoke Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, Inc. ISBN 0-615-11664-7.

External linksEdit