The return of the 611
In 2015 the railroad enthusiast community welcomes one of the most beautiful and most powerful passenger steam locomotives ever built back to operating condition, Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611. This magnificent steam locomotive has returned to the rails after 21 years of inactivity. Trains would like to celebrate this achievement, and to do so we’ve gathered some of our favorite photos of yesterday and today, found videos that delight us, and written about the inspiration that we find in this streamlined mechanical masterpiece. We hope you’ll enjoy this look at 611 in Steam!
Craftsmen at Norfolk & Western’s Roanoke Shops built No. 611 in May 1950, finishing the job on May 29. The locomotive was one of 14 Class J 4-8-4s, Nos. 600-613, that were homemade and employed on the railroad’s crack passenger trains between Norfolk and Cincinnati and on other lines, such as the route to Bristol, Va. The Tuscan red, gold, and locomotives were powerful, developing more than 5,100 hp, and they could sprint at speeds up to 110 mph. Sadly, the coming of diesel locomotives in the late 1950s meant the end for N&W steam and the Class J locomotives. The railroad retired No. 611 in 1959 and donated it to a city park in 1963. In 1981, N&W management decided to restore No. 611 and it operated on excursions under the new Norfolk Southern Corp. banner from 1982-1994.
In 2013, the Virginia Museum of Transportation organized the Fire Up 611! Committee to restore No. 611, to build a permanent home for the locomotive at the museum, and to create an endowment for its perpetual maintenance. Thanks to generous donors, many of them Trains readers, and the Norfolk Southern Corp., the committee raised more than $3 million to begin the work. The locomotive was moved to Spencer, N.C., where work took place in the roundhouse at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Returned to steam on March 31, the locomotive is set to pull excursions in Virginia in June and July. For more information about excursions, see www.FireUp611.org