Norfolk and Western 611
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Norfolk and Western 611, also known as the "Spirit of Roanoke", is a preserved class "J" 4-8-4 "Northern" type steam locomotive built and operated by the Norfolk and Western Railway from 1950 to 1959. Built at the Roanoke Shops in May 1950, No. 611 is the only surviving example of fourteen class "J" locomotives, and currently the largest operating 4-8-4 "Northern" type locomotive in the United States.
|Norfolk & Western 611|
Norfolk and Western No. 611 sitting on the turntable at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in May 2015
611 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 December 1994 and moved back to the VMT. In February 2013, the VMT formed a campaign called Fire Up 611! to return No. 611 to operating condition once again for excursion service in May 2015. Most recently, from late September to late October 2019, No. 611 went to Strasburg, Pennsylvania to participate in the Strasburg Rail Road's "N&W Reunion of Steam" event where it ran several trips alongside N&W 4-8-0 No. 475.
Revenue service and preservationEdit
611, along with the other class Js, pulled the Norfolk and Western's prominent passenger trains, such as the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocahontas, and the Cavalier between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio as well as ferrying Southern Railway's the Birmingham Special, the Pelican, and the Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. Because of 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.
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, the N&W's 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 very last one in October 1959.
Due to the efforts of several men, the 611 was saved. This was in part due to its superb condition after its 1956 derailment and subsequent repair, and also in part to the efforts of railway photographer O. Winston Link, who offered to purchase 611 himself rather than see it scrapped. The locomotive was donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in Roanoke, Virginia in 1962, where it sat dormant for two decades. The 611 was also a possible candidate for the American Freedom Train; however, Reading 2101, Southern Pacific 4449 and Texas and Pacific 610 were ultimately chosen instead.
First restoration and excursionsEdit
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 class "Ms" 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.
On August 14, 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.
The steam program looked for a stronger locomotive to pull longer and heavier excursion trains 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. The next day, 611 set off on a three-day trek home to Roanoke. Between Salisbury, North Carolina and Roanoke, 611 displayed black flags on the last run of December 7. That evening, upon arrival at Shaffer's Crossing in Roanoke, 611 had its fire put out for the last time in the 20th century.
Post 1982-1994 excursion serviceEdit
In 1995, 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, the 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. It is also depicted on the Commonwealth of Virginia's "Railway Heritage" license plate.
Second restoration and excursionsEdit
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.
On June 28, 2013, museum officials said that they would restore 611 if they could find the money. 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.Coordinates:
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. 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 in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Due to the generally good condition of the locomotive, restoration was complete within a year.
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. The test fire was a complete success and the 611 was steamed up for the first time in nearly twenty-one years.
On May 28, 2015, the North Carolina Transportation Museum held photo runbys with 611 leading passenger and freight consists, plus night photo session.
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.
On April 9, 2016, the 611 ran "The Virginian" from Spencer, North Carolina to Lynchburg, Virginia and "The Blue Ridge Special" from Spencer to Asheville, North Carolina the next day. On April 23 and 24, 2016, the locomotive ran "The Roanoker" from Greensboro, NC to Roanoke, VA. on the ex-Virginian Railway main line.
On late spring 2016, the 611 ran the excursions that it did last year such as "The Powhatan Arrow", "The Pelican, and "The American". 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.
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.
On January 6, 2017 the 611 returned to the North Carolina Transportation Museum under her own power for Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspection. Afterwards, the locomotive ran "The Virginian" round-trip excursion again from Spencer, NC to Lynchburg, VA on April 8, 2017. 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.
In 2018, 611 was unable to perform any major excursions due to Amtrak's newest restrictions on private charter trips. 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 routine 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 the Positive train control (PTC) to the US railroad network, for which the VMT is asking for donations.
In 2019, No. 611 visited the Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg, Pennsylvania for the five weekend events in late September and the rest of October along with a reunion with another N&W steam locomotive, 4-8-0 No. 475.
- On January 23, 1956, No. 611 derailed along the Tug River near Cedar, Mingo County, West Virginia while pulling The Pocahontas. 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. The 611 was repaired and continued revenue passenger service.
- 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. 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. 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.
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.
In 2017, 611 was formally designated the official steam locomotive of Virginia.
- "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.
- Solomon (2017), p. 207.
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- Wrinn (2000), pp. 102–105.
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- "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)
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- 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.
- "VMT Announces Alternate 611 Events in Place of Excursions". Virginia Museum of Transportation. June 16, 2018. Archived from the original on July 11, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
- "611 Visits Strasburg – A Reunion of Steam". Strasburg Rail Road. Archived from the original on April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
- Knight, Chris (August 22, 2019). "Massive N&W; 611 train made its way to Strasburg Rail Road [photos]". LNP Media Group. Archived from the original on August 22, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- "Derailment of Steam Excursion Train Norfolk and Western Railway Company Train Extra 611". NTSB.gov. National Transportation Safety Board. May 18, 1986.
- "611: American Icon DVD". Museum Store Virginia Museum of Transportation. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
- Solomon, Brian (2017). North American Locomotives: A Railroad-by-Railroad Photohistory (3rd ed.). Crestline. ISBN 978-0-7858-3533-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Wrinn, Jim (2000). Steam's Camelot: Southern and Norfolk Southern Excursions in Color (1st ed.). TLC Publishing. ISBN 1-883089-56-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Norfolk and Western Railway 611.|
- Norfolk & Western Class J 611 - Virginia Museum of Transportation