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a streamlined locomotive pulling passenger cars

N&W Class J 611

Celebrating the return of the finest passenger steam locomotive ever with exclusive coverage and a special issue

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!

611 history

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.

611 restoration

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.

LATEST NEWS

A look at this iconic passenger steam locomotive, from its 1950 birth to its present-day restoration

A close up shot of a train turning the corner
Class J No. 601 hits a curve at Naugatuck, W.Va., in August 1956 as the Powhatan Arrow nears Williamson, W.Va.
John Krave photo, Trains collection
A close up shot of a train turning the corner
A train passing by
Near the end of her career, No. 611 pulls train 16-22 through South Norfolk, Va., on a cloudy day in 1958.
H. Reid, Trains collection
A train passing by
Two guys stand off to the side as a train passes by with big black smoke coming out of its chimney
No. 611 puts on a show for fans during a photo runby at Yadkin Va., on an Oct. 18, 1959 excursion from Petersburg, Va., to Norfolk Va., for the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
Ara Mesrobian photo, Trains collection
Two guys stand off to the side as a train passes by with big black smoke coming out of its chimney
A picture of the nose of a train sitting in a station
Dirty and dusty from disuse, No. 611 slumbers inside the Shaffers Crossing Roundhouse in Roanoke, Va., after the final run in October 1959 and before she was put on display at Wasena Park in 1963.
H. Reid photo, Trains collection
A picture of the nose of a train sitting in a station
A train turning a corner as it passing through a forest
Norfolk & Western No. 611 pound upgrade at Blue Ridge, Va., with an Appalachian Power Co. special bound for Norfolk, Va., on Aug. 30, 1959.
William E. Warden Jr. photo, Trains collection
A train turning a corner as it passing through a forest
A train passing below a bridge
Class J No. 604 leads the eastbound Pocahontas through Pembroke, Va., on May 14, 1942.
Edward Grimes collection 
A train passing below a bridge
A train passing through a forest
No. 611 leaves South Norfolk, Va., in July 1957 with train No. 3, the Pocahontas.
H. Reid, Trains collection
A train passing through a forest
A head on shot of a train sitting at a station
No. 605 pierces one of the two bores at Montgomery Tunnel as it climbs the Christiansburg grade west of Roanoke with the Powhatan Arrow behind its couplers.
Philip R. Hastings photo, Trains collection
A head on shot of a train sitting at a station
A train exiting a tunnel
On a rainy day in Roanoke, Va., in July 1957, No. 602 waits to take train No. 45, the Tennessean, west to Bristol. The train is heavy with head-end business.
William E. Warden Jr. photo, Trains collection
A train exiting a tunnel
A train passing through a narrow stretch
No. 611 works up grade at Dublin, Va., on an May 9, 1992 excursion.
Ron Flanary photo 
A train passing through a narrow stretch
A train speeding by
Near Max Meadows, Va., No. 611 cuts a sharp profile on a westbound ferry move on April 30, 1992.
Ron Flanary photo
A train speeding by
A train passing by during sunset
At sunset on Dec. 6, 1994, No. 611 rolls through Kings Mountain, N.C., on its final trip from Birmingham, Ala., to Roanoke, Va.
Steve Glischinski photo
A train passing by during sunset
A train passing through a hilly area with lots of trees
On the return leg of an Alexandria, Va.-Lynchburg, Va., excursion, No. 611 rolls north on the former Southern Railway main line at Arrowhead, Va., on May 15, 1993.
Alex Mayes photo
A train passing through a hilly area with lots of trees
A train passing over a bridge surrounded by trees
Crossing the Tye River bridge north of Amherst, Va., No. 611 is northbound on May 22, 1994.
Alex Mayes photo 
A train passing over a bridge surrounded by trees
A train passing below a stoplight
Norfolk Southern’s Norfolk & Western heritage unit, No. 8103 pulls Wabash E8 No. 1009 and No. 611 south through Reidsville, N.C. on May 25, 2014 on the steam locomotive’s journey from Roanoke, Va., to the restoration shop in Spencer, N.C.
Jim Wrinn photo
A train passing below a stoplight
A train sitting in a turntable
No. 611 rides the 100-foot turntable at Spencer Shops on May 26, 2014. The engine’s wheelbase is slightly over 95 feet so it fit with inches to spare on either end of the table.
Jim Wrinn photo
A train sitting in a turntable
A man working on top of a train
Stripped to the bone, No. 611 is readied for inspection on June 21, 2014 as volunteers clean up the boiler exterior at Spencer, N.C.
Ben Earp photo
A man working on top of a train
A side angle photo of a man working on a train
Here’s what No. 611 looks like with her jacketing, insulation, and skyline casting removed. This was only a few days into the restoration in June 2014.
Ben Earp photo
A side angle photo of a man working on a train
A closeup shot of three workers removing a grate from a train
Volunteers Dwight Flinchum, left, Michael Ridenhour, center, and Duane Leonard, right, remove one of the 26 grates from the firebox on June 21, 2014.
Ben Earp photo
A closeup shot of three workers removing a grate from a train
A closeup shot of a guy working on the boiler of a train
Bob Yuill needlescales a superheater unit, preparing it for re-installation in No. 611’s boiler.
Ben Earp photo
A closeup shot of a guy working on the boiler of a train
An employee working on a part of a train inside a factory
Volunteer Steve Morgan works on No. 611 parts inside the Bob Julian Roundhouse at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer on Jan. 19, 2015.
Ben Earp photo
An employee working on a part of a train inside a factory

Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 Products

611 In Steam

Don’t miss the return of 611 with this special issue!

611 In Steam DVD

Explore the history and restoration of N&W Class J No. 611.