N&W 611 May Return to Mainline Service

Norfolk & Western J Class No. 611 executes a photo runby during a May 21, 1989, excursion between Chicago and Fort Wayne. The J  Class locomotive may yet return to mainline steam service. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

Norfolk & Western J Class No. 611 executes a photo runby during a May 21, 1989, excursion between Chicago and Fort Wayne, Ind.. The J Class locomotive may return to mainline steam excursion service on Norfolk Southern tracks. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)

The Virginia Transportation Museum announced on Friday that Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 may return to mainline excursion service if a study of what needs to be done to restore and maintain the steam locomotive is positive and funding can be found to finance the endeavor.

The museum created a seven-member “Fire up 611?” committee that is expected to report its findings within 90 days.

The 4-8-4 pulled N&W passenger trains between 1950 and 1959, and returned to service in 1982 as part of the Norfolk Southern steam program. It has been on static display at the museum in Roanoke, Va., since the steam program ended in late 1994.

“The Class J 611 locomotive embodies both beauty and power,” said Bev Fitzpatrick, Jr., executive director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation in a news release. “Since her retirement from excursion service in 1994, fans have been clamoring, hoping, and dreaming of a day when she once again blows her whistle and thunders across the landscape.”

The museum said that the 611 committee will meet with specialists in steam locomotives operations and restoration, technical engineers, and experts on Federal Railroad Administration regulations and safety.

“Before we can promise our 611 fans that she will indeed return to service, we need to know what it will take to fix and maintain her,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said the museum will need the help of railfans to raise money for a restoration if the committee decides to move in that direction.

The committee will determine the restoration’s scope, the experts needed, and the location for the work as well as cost estimates based on the 611’s mechanical history, FRA boiler regulations that went into effect since the engine last ran, and other factors.

The museum has established a website – fireup611.org – with information about the effort to restore the 611. There is also a Fire Up 611 Facebook page and YouTube channel.

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