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The transportation museum needs a crowd-pleaser to keep momentum going as attendance rises.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
The transportation museum in Roanoke is raising money to study the feasibility of getting its 611 locomotive rolling again under its own steam. The study’s findings could be the start of something bigger: a larger fund-raising effort to restore the classic steam engine to suitable condition for excursions.
The need for a fundraiser as a prelude, perhaps, to another fundraiser is a measure of the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s continuing financial struggles. Success could be its ticket to survival.
The museum, the subject of a scathing consultant’s report in 2008 that found its business model unsustainable, has never fully recovered since the state cut support to all nonstate museums in 2001. Executive Director Bev Fitzpatrick says it has been in the black for the past five years — though barely, and that with the help of grants and small subsidies from local governments in the Roanoke Valley.
Recently hired marketing and development directors have attendance and membership numbers rising. But keeping the momentum going will take something the museum lacks: a star attraction that captures the imagination of rail buffs around the world, so much so that they will give money to support an expensive project at the transportation museum of a small city in an out-of-the-way part of the state.
Norfolk Southern’s interest in using the old Norfolk & Western Class J 611 for excursions for customers and employees — if, that is, the museum can make it rail-worthy once again — has rekindled the hopes of 611 fans in the city where it was built.
If fundraisers can spread their net wide enough to pay for the restoration, and in turn, the 611 draws people to Roanoke in sufficient numbers to ride the train, the project could be the revenue generator the museum needs to maintain its operations and build an endowment.
One object of the study is to gauge the depth of that support. Already, visitors come from around the world simply to see the Class J 611 and a Class A-1218 steam engine as stationary exhibits. Exhibit A, perhaps.
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