Apr. 1, 2014 – ROANOKE, VIRGINIA – 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.