Norfolk and Western Class J #611 was built in the Roanoke Shops of the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1950. At the time, the locomotive was renowned as one the most advanced streamlined locomotives in the world, capable of speeds up to and exceeding 110 mph. The engineers loved her for her superb running charachteristics and ease of maintenance. The 611 was used mainly in passenger service, pulling such famous trains as The Pocahontas and the Powhatan Arrow. She served the Norfolk and Western faithfully for 9 years, until she was replaced by diesels in 1959. She sat dormant in a Roanoke park for two decades before she was refurbished as a part of the Norfolk Southern steam program. She then traveled the mainline for 12 years as a living ambassador of the railroad's dynamic role in American history. Older generations were reminded, and younger ones inspired, as the 611 thundered through towns and cities all across the eastern United States.
But sadly, all this came to an end in 1994 when Norfolk Southern ended their steam program. 611's last trip was to Roanoke, her birthplace, where on Dec. 7, 1994, her fires were dropped and she was parked, dormant, at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
However, there is new hope. Norfolk Southern has restarted their steam program, and Wick Moorman, the CEO of Norfolk Southern, has said that the company would be open to operating the engine if the Virginia Museum of Transportation were able to restore and maintain it. Despite having sat dormant for 18 years, the locomotive is well-preserved. This is the perfect opportunity to restore the 611 and return her to the mainline. Today's generations, many of which have never seen an operating steam locomotive, can benefit immensely from the opportunity to learn about America's railroad heritage. And a better representative than 611 can hardly be imagined. A classic streamliner and a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, the 611 represents the pinnacle of steam locomotive engineering in an era when America ran on steam locomotives. Because of its unique styling, long history, and mechanical excellence, the 611 represents the best candidate for restoration in the America.
Our organization aims to raise funding to restore and maintain the 611 so that it can tell the story of American railroads well into the future. This money will be donated to the Virginia Museum of Transportation with the agreement that it will be used to restore the 611. America and its railroads grew up together, and their success was in no small part closely related. And today, railroads are experiencing a renaissance that has made them an increasingly important part of the modern transportation sector. So it has never been more important that Americans everywhere hear the story of the railroad's past, because it will become an increasingly important part of the future. And we envision that the 611 will be a part of that future.