Norfolk and Western 611

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
611 on turntable.jpg
Norfolk and Western No. 611 sitting on the turntable at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in May 2015
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
BuilderRoanoke Shops
Serial number388
Build dateMay 29, 1950
 • 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)
Width11 ft 2 in (3.40 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 effort84,981 lbf (378.01 kN)
Factor of adh.3.39
OperatorsNorfolk and Western RailwayNorfolk Southern Railway
Virginia Museum of Transportation
Number in class12 of 14
  • 611
  • "The Spirit of Roanoke"
  • "The Queen of Steam"
RetiredOctober 24, 1959 (revenue service)
December 7, 1994 (1st excursion service)
RestoredAugust 14, 1982 (1st restoration)
March 31, 2015 (2nd restoration)
Current ownerVirginia Museum of Transportation
DispositionOperational in excursion service, based in Roanoke, Virginia

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

No. 611's builder plate

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.[1] 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.[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.[2] 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.[citation needed] The locomotive was donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in Roanoke, Virginia in 1962, where it sat dormant for two decades.[3] 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.[citation needed]

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.[4]

No. 611 departing Norfolk, Virginia, with an excursion in 1993.

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.[5] The next day, 611 set off on a three-day trek home to Roanoke.[5] Between Salisbury, North Carolina and Roanoke, 611 displayed black flags on the last run of December 7.[5] That evening, upon arrival at Shaffer's Crossing in Roanoke, 611 had its fire put out for the last time in the 20th century.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8][9]

On June 28, 2013, museum officials said that they would restore 611 if they could find the money.[10] 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.[10]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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] The test fire was a complete success and the 611 was steamed up for the first time in nearly twenty-one years.[13]

The recently restored Norfolk and Western No. 611 operating in Markham, Virginia, on June 7, 2015.

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.[14]

On May 28, 2015, the North Carolina Transportation Museum held photo runbys with 611 leading passenger and freight consists, plus night photo session.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] On April 23 and 24, 2016, the locomotive ran "The Roanoker" from Greensboro, NC to Roanoke, VA. on the ex-Virginian Railway main line.[18]

On late spring 2016, the 611 ran the excursions that it did last year such as "The Powhatan Arrow", "The Pelican, and "The American".[19] 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.[20][21]

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.[22]

On January 6, 2017 the 611 returned to the North Carolina Transportation Museum under her own power for Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspection.[23] Afterwards, the locomotive ran "The Virginian" round-trip excursion again from Spencer, NC to Lynchburg, VA on April 8, 2017.[24] 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.[24]

In 2018, 611 was unable to perform any major excursions due to Amtrak's newest restrictions on private charter trips.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27][28]


  • On January 23, 1956, No. 611 derailed along the Tug River near Cedar, Mingo County, 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]
  • 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.[29]

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.[30]

In 2017, 611 was formally designated the official steam locomotive of Virginia.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e "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. ^ Solomon (2017), p. 207.
  3. ^ Allen, Mike (May 31, 2015). "History of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611". The Roanoke Times.
  4. ^ Wrinn (2000), pp. 73–77.
  5. ^ a b c d Wrinn (2000), pp. 102–105.
  6. ^ "Roanoke born. Roanoke bred. Roanoke proud". Norfolk & Western 611. Archived from the original on June 25, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  7. ^ "Our Story". Virginia Museum Of Transportation. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ "The Committee". Fire Up 611!. Archived from the original on July 3, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "Norfolk Southern supports restoration of historic locomotive through sale of Rothko painting". Norfolk Southern. November 22, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  12. ^ "Age of Steam Roundhouse Report". Age of Steam Roundhouse. Winter 2014–2015. Archived from the original on August 23, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  13. ^ a b "VIDEO: Norfolk & Western 611 steam test: All systems go". Trains. April 1, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "The NCTM says goodbye to the 611!". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on April 28, 2015. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  16. ^ "Upcoming Events". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on April 18, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  17. ^ "611 Spring Excursions". North Carolina Transportation Museum. Archived from the original on January 13, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  18. ^ "The Roanoker, Greensboro/Roanoke/Greensboro April 23 & 24". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on March 23, 2016. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  19. ^ "Excursion Tickets!". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on May 5, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  20. ^ "Special Events". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on June 12, 2016. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  21. ^ "Where is 611?". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on October 21, 2016. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  22. ^ "Excursions". Virginia Museum of Transportation. Archived from the original on December 22, 2016. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  23. ^ "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)
  24. ^ a b "#611 Excursions". North Carolina Transportation Museum. Archived from the original on March 22, 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ "611 Visits Strasburg – A Reunion of Steam". Strasburg Rail Road. Archived from the original on April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "Derailment of Steam Excursion Train Norfolk and Western Railway Company Train Extra 611". National Transportation Safety Board. May 18, 1986.
  30. ^ "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)

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.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)

External linksEdit