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April 1, 2014 – The Virginia Museum of Transportation today announced the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Passenger Locomotive—known affectionately as the Spirit of Roanoke—is ready to head to Spencer, N.C. for restoration. An “All Aboard” send-off party is scheduled for Saturday, May 24, from 10 am to 5 pm.

After leaving the Virginia Museum of Transportation on May 24, the Class J 611 will arrive at the North Carolina Transportation Museum on or about May 29, 2014. She will be the guest of honor at the museum’s Streamliners event, to be held May 29 through June 1. Restoration work will begin shortly after the event.

The restoration will be open to the public, but with limited viewing. Planned work includes a complete overhaul to meet current Federal Railroad Administration and strict safety guidelines.

“We’re pleased to send the 611 on to our fellow train enthusiasts at the North Carolina Transportation Museum where this exciting restoration will get underway,” says Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr., executive director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. “We’re grateful for the tremendous amount of support that allows us to reach this step of the program.”

The Fire UP 611 Committee of steam locomotive technology experts, business leaders and railroad consultants conducted a feasibility study in 2013.  The study revealed that the Virginia Museum of Transportation would need $3.5 million to restore, operate and preserve the Class J 611. An additional $1.5 million will be raised as an endowment for the iconic locomotive.

Although the original plan called for raising approximately $3.5 million prior to the start of restoration, the Fire Up 611! Committee and the Museum’s Board of Directors decided to move ahead with restoration now that $2.3 million has been raised. Fitzpatrick cites a tight timeline to participate in Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam Program in 2015, Amtrak’s return to Roanoke, the momentum of the fundraising efforts and strong results as reasons in support of the decision.

“The restoration will take approximately nine months and needs to begin this spring so we can participate in Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam Program in 2015,” says Fitzpatrick.   “As she travels the Norfolk Southern rail system, our 611 will draw the attention and interest of new donors and fans of the Class J 611 from the region and beyond.”

The Fire Up 611! Committee recommended that a preservation and education center be built at the Museum to keep the locomotive in top operating form. “The goal from the very beginning was not only to get her running, but to keep her running for generations to come,” said J. Preston Claytor, chairman of the Fire Up 611! Committee. “The facility secures the investments rail fans have made in the Class J 611.”

Amtrak’s plans to extend passenger rail service into Roanoke will play a role in the location of the preservation and education center. “Amtrak may need land owned by Norfolk Southern and leased by the Museum at present,” he says. “We are looking at ideas for the preservation and education facility’s location in conjunction with Amtrak Service, the Class J 611’s restoration, and the overall planning of this facility.”

In recent months, the Fire Up 611! Campaign saw major momentum, and the Museum is confident the remaining funds will be raised. “We’re going at full steam,” says Fitzpatrick. “Based on our success to date and projection for the campaign’s final stages, we decided we could send her to Spencer for restoration sooner rather than later.” In nine short months, donations to the campaign have been received from nearly 3,000 donors from every state and the District of Columbia in the United States and 18 foreign countries.

June 28, 2013 – The Virginia Museum of Transportation announced today its intention to return the iconic Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Locomotive to excursion service if her supporters will fund the project.

ROANOKE, VIRGINIA – “We are pleased to say that we can Fire Up 611! But the time is now and it will take fans of the 611 around the world to stoke her fire,” says Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr., executive director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. “Today we are kicking off the official Fire Up 611! Capital Campaign.”

The Fire Up 611! Committee determines that $3.5 million will be needed to return the locomotive to the rails. The costs include a complete mechanical restoration of the locomotive, a shop maintenance facility and support to develop the excursion program. Ultimately, the goal is to raise $5 million so that the 611 has an endowment to keep her running for years.

“The Virginia Museum of Transportation does not have the resources to fund this project alone,” Fitzpatrick says. “We are asking her fans across the globe who want to see her run again to be a part of this important capital campaign. Her appeal extends to people everywhere who value heritage, craftsmanship and the thrill of bringing an American icon to life.”

The N&W Class J 611 has been invited to participate in the Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam Excursion Program in 2014. This exciting program provides steam rail excursions throughout the Norfolk Southern’s operating territory. To participate in the program in 2014, the Museum needs to raise the necessary funds by October 31, 2013.

“If her supporters bring No. 611 back to life, NS will be eager and excited for this incredible part of rail history to join the 21st Century Steam Program,” says Norfolk Southern spokesman Frank Brown. “The return of 611 would represent a great opportunity to celebrate our heritage while educating a new generation about the critical role railroads play in today’s economy.”

611’s fans are invited to visit to learn more and to donate to the Fire Up 611 Capital Campaign. They can also visit the Fire Up 611 Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter feed (#fireup611). 

The Fire Up 611! Study

The study – called Fire Up 611! – was commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation to evaluate the feasibility of returning the 611 to excursion service. The Fire Up 611! Committee was made up of experts in rail, excursions, steam locomotive and business operations.  

Fire Up 611! Committee Chairman Preston Claytor reports that the following will be needed for the 611 to ride the high iron once again:

Complete Mechanical Restoration: The restoration includes a complete overhaul to meet current Federal Railroad Administration and strict safety guidelines. Before the shop is completed, the 611 will possibly be restored through a partnership with the North Carolina Transportation Foundation in Spencer, North Carolina.

A New Mechanical Shop: The Committee found that the Virginia Museum of Transportation would need a facility to maintain the 611. There are only a few facilities in North America large enough to accommodate a steam locomotive the size of 611. The facility will be built on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia. “With a Roanoke-based shop facility, she can remain on the high iron and on display for her fans,” says Claytor.

Business Operations: To be successful, personnel and tools are necessary to complete the restoration and operate the excursions. Included in these costs are marketing, human resources and business operations.

About the N&W Class J 611 Steam Locomotive

The Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Locomotive is the one of the finest American passenger steam locomotive ever built. She is a marriage of beauty and power.  Simple lines, a bullet nose, a midnight black façade, a Tuscan stripe and a baritone whistle makes her the one of the most distinguished steam locomotive left in the world. She’s an engineering powerhouse of steam, technology and near mechanical perfection.

The Norfolk & Western Class J Locomotives were designed, constructed and maintained in Roanoke, Virginia. These streamlined locomotives captivated the hearts of rail fans worldwide since they first rolled out of the N&W Roanoke Shops, beginning in 1941.

“The Class J Locomotives were the most technically advanced steam locomotive design of any type that was ever in service anywhere in the world,” says William Withuhn, Curator Emeritus, History of Technology and Transportation, Smithsonian Institution and editor and co-author of Rails Across America: a History of Railroads in North America (Smithmark, 1993). “The J was – and is now – under its graceful skin the apex and epitome of its era of design, helping to make Americans the most mobile people on the planet.”

The Class J Locomotives were built using American ingenuity, design and engineering. Even today, she is the pinnacle of steam locomotive technology known to man. “The J class was the final fruit of more than 120 years of engineering development,” says Withuhn. “A Class J could hit more than 5,000 net horsepower, and reach 110 miles per hour. There was nothing like it.”

The Class J 611 Steam Locomotive was built in 1950, a time when men wore hats and ladies wore gloves and smartly dressed porters served lunch on real china in the dining car.  The 611 Locomotive pulled the Powhatan Arrow, the famed passenger train, from Norfolk to Cincinnati.

The Class J 611 retired from passenger rail service in 1959. In 1962, she was moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia. 

In 1981, Norfolk Southern pulled her out of retirement and restored her to her original glory. Once again, she blew her whistle to sleepy towns and thundered across the landscape.

In 1984, the Class J 611 was named a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

She was retired from excursions in 1994 and moved back into the Virginia Museum of Transportation, where she sits today, greeting tens of thousands of her fans who visit from across the globe every year.

Since her retirement, rail fans have clamored, hoped and dreamed that she return to the rails, to blow her whistle and steam over the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains once again.

The Fire Up 611! Committee

Preston Claytor: Chairman of the Fire Up 611 Committee and Safety consultant.
Mr. Claytor was on the 611 locomotive crew during its last excursion runs. Boynton Beach, Florida.   
Cheri George: Owner of a software consulting company. Ms. George was a volunteer fireman for the 611 and was part of the crew during its last excursion runs. Atlanta, Georgia.
Ron Davis: President of the Norfolk & Western Historical Society. Roanoke, Virginia.  

Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr.: Executive Director, Virginia Museum of Transportation. Roanoke, Virginia.

Will Harris: A board member of the Virginia Museum of Transportation and president of North Fork Lumber Company. Goshen, Virginia.

Bill Honeycutt: Consultant, President of the Historical Society of Western Virginia, representing the O. Winston Link Museum. Roanoke, Virginia.  

Ken Lanford:  President, Board of Directors of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Roanoke, Virginia.

Scott Lindsay: President, Steam Operations Corporation.  Steam Operations Corporation specializes in the restoration of historic rail equipment. Mr. Lindsay was also on the 611 locomotive crew during its last excursion runs. Birmingham, Alabama.

Jeff Sanders: President of the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Roanoke, Virginia. 

Jim Stump: An executive search consultant, a Roanoke native and railroad enthusiast. Charlotte, North Carolina.  

Jim Wrinn: Editor of Kalmbach Publishing's TRAINS Magazine. Waukesha, Wisconsin. 

(April 2, 2012) Virginia Museum of Transportation assumes full ownership of 611 and 1218 as 50th birthday celebration starts

Today, the City of Roanoke, with the support of the Norfolk Southern Corporation, gifted the Virginia Museum of Transportation the country’s last remaining examples of the most advanced steam engines of their kind– the Norfolk and Western Class J 611 and the Class A 1218.

The proclamation was made on the Museum’s 50th Birthday at a press conference in Roanoke, VA.  Roanoke Mayor David Bowers delivered the news. Members of Roanoke’s City Council, special guests, Museum board, members and volunteers were on hand to cheer the announcement.

“What a wonderful birthday present,” says Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr., the Museum’s executive director. “This gift shows great faith in the Virginia Museum of Transportation by our city leaders and administration. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate this important day and to kick off the next 50 years.”

The VMT was originally known as the Roanoke Transportation Museum and was founded by the City of Roanoke. The charter was created on April 2, 1962. The Roanoke Transportation Museum opened its doors for the first time over the Memorial Day weekend in 1963. The City of Roanoke transferred operation of the Museum to a private non-profit organization in 1976.

Because of the original charter, the city of Roanoke still owned 40 percent of the equipment on display at the Museum until recently. All the assets, with the exception of the Norfolk & Western (N&W) Class J 611 and the Class A 1218, became property of the Museum in February 2012.

Today’s announcement transfers the two most significant pieces of Roanoke’s history to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Virginia Museum of Transportation announces the installation of an electric vehicle charging station, the first in Roanoke

(August 30, 2011) The Virginia Museum of Transportation announces it is installing an Eaton Level 2 Pow-R-Station electric vehicle charging station at the Museum in downtown Roanoke. The charging station is part of the Museum’s efforts to highlight emerging transportation technologies and their impact on community development throughout the Commonwealth. The Level 2 Pow-R-Station will easily fill a depleted all-electric vehicle battery in four to six hours.

The charging station is mounted in front of the Museum. When the installation is completed, the charging station will accept credit cards for payment. The project was made possible by the Eaton Corporation, City Electric Supply, the Davis H. Elliot Company, and Advance Auto Parts. Read more...

Norfolk Southern Challenge

In 2008, Wick Moorman, the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Norfolk Southern Corporation, offered the Virginia Museum of Transportation a $1 million Challenge Match toward improved infrastructure and the development of new exhibits. In response, the Museum has undertaken a two-year planning process and welcomes the public’s comments and suggestions.

The Museum’s lead project consultant for this planning process is William L. Withuhn, Curator in the Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He is widely considered the nation’s leading transportation exhibits producer and is familiar with the Museum, its strengths, weaknesses, audiences, and great potential.

“The Virginia Museum of Transportation has a wonderful opportunity ahead of it to do a better job of sharing the wonderful stories of Virginia’s transportation heritage with current and future generations,” said executive director Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr. “We are extremely grateful both to Norfolk Southern and to the public for the contribution of ideas and for the financial support necessary to bring the best of these ideas to fruition.”