Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 Locomotive

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The bullet-nosed streamlined steam Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 Locomotive’s design is considered one of the most novel and striking in railroad history. Completed in May 1950 by the Norfolk & Western Railway in Roanoke, the coal-burning steam locomotive spans 110 feet in length and weighs 872,600 pounds. The attached tender car carries 35 tons of coal and 20,000 gallons of water, producing 5,400 horsepower. The 611 entered service in 1950 and transported passengers until its retirement in 1959. It demonstrated a remarkable capacity to keep up with passenger loads throughout the decade. The 611 traveled at speeds of up to 100 mph on the flat lands of Virginia to Ohio, and up to 40 mph in the mountainous territories of western Virginia and West Virginia. In 1952, the 611—along with its sister locomotive the 613—pulled Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign train from Columbus, Ohio, to Kenova, West Virginia. After it survived a derailment in 1956 in Cedar, West Virginia, the 611 was repaired and resumed service just 13 days later. Three years after its retirement, the 611 was donated to the City of Roanoke and placed on display at the Roanoke Transportation Museum until 1981. Restoration was completed in 1982, after which the locomotive powered mainline rail passenger excursions throughout the Norfolk Southern Railroad system until 1994. In 1984 it was designated a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. It was restored a second time in 2014 and continues to be kept at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke when not in use for excursions. In 2017, the Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 Locomotive was designated as the Official State Steam Locomotive of Virginia. 

Last Updated: February 16, 2024

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VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark

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