On your next visit to Virginia’s Blue Ridge, you may notice folks donning hats with the number 611 emblazed on them or t-shirts asking you to FireUp611!
So, what’s the deal with Roanoke’s infatuation with the number 611? The answer is simple. 611 is more than a number. It’s a Roanoke icon and a national treasure.
The 611 is one of fourteen Class ‘J’ passenger steam locomotives built for the Norfolk & Western Railway between 1941 and 1950. She is the only one in existence today, and was built right here in Roanoke’s East End Shops in 1950. With her unique bullet nose and astonishing ability to pull 15 cars at 110 mph, the Class J 611 is truly the “Queen of Steam.”
However, as diesel locomotives took over duties on the rail, the 611 was relegated to back up steam generation at the East End Shops, and later donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum (now the Virginia Museum of Transportation) for static display. Revived for a period in the 1980s for steam excursions, she was parked again in 1994, some thought for good.
For nearly two decades, the 611 sat idle, until 2013 when Norfolk Southern announced intentions to revive its excursion program with “21st Century Steam.” Thousands of rail enthusiasts voiced hope that 611 would once again lead the excursions and the Virginia Museum of Transportation responded with the “FireUp611!” campaign to restore the streamlined beauty.
Following a successful fundraising campaign and understanding the historical significance of the restoration project, the Virginia Museum of Transportation and filmmaker Rex Teese of The Company Store began the challenging task of capturing hundreds of hours of video and interviews to tell the unique story of how Roanoke’s “Queen of Steam” was brought back to life by those who cared about her most.
Please enjoy this sneak peek of never before seen footage.
Now that you know the history, don’t miss your chance to experience it first-hand.
Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam excursions offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to not just hear the roaring power of the 611, but feel it. Watch steam rocket into the sky with every whistle blast that announces her arrival from town to town.
Steam excursions run from April through June and we have you covered with the full list of excursions beginning and ending in the 611’s birthplace, including The Roanoker, The Powhatan Arrow, and The Pelican runs.
There are still opportunities to purchase tickets to ride on the 611, but they’re going quickly! The Roanoker offers riders the opportunity to enjoy riding on the historic Virginian Railway line while also spending part of the day in Downtown Roanoke. Visit FireUp611.org for more information about purchasing tickets.
Begin planning your trip to Virginia's Blue Ridge by booking a place to stay under our Lodging section, learning more about Things to Do in the region and discovering more about the Virginia Museum of Transportation.