The Virginia Museum of Transporation has released the 2017 excursion schedule for the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 steam engine.

“We’re ready to go,” said museum spokesman Walker Nelms.

Built in Roanoke in 1950 to pull passenger trains, the 611 is the only remaining steam locomotive in its class. After a $1 million restoration completed in May 2015, the 611 has attracted thousands of visitors to the Roanoke Valley, and pulled sold-out excursion trains for two years running.

The museum will oversee 10 excursions in April and May. Information on ticket sales won’t be available until January, Nelms said.

All excursions are round trips. The dates, departure points and destinations are:

  • April 22, Greensboro, North Carolina, to Roanoke (full-day trip)
  • April 23, Greensboro to Roanoke (full-day trip)
  • May 6, Lynchburg to Petersburg (full-day trip)
  • May 7, Lynchburg to Petersburg (full-day trip)
  • May 27, Roanoke to Lynchburg (half-day trip); Roanoke to Radford (half-day trip)
  • May 28, Roanoke to Lynchburg (half-day trip); Roanoke to Radford (half-day trip)
  • May 29, Roanoke to Lynchburg (half-day trip); Roanoke to Radford (half-day trip)

The museum still intends to construct a new building to house and maintain the 611, but that project has been on hold as plans to build an Amtrak boarding platform in Roanoke have gone forward. Ideally, museum director Bev Fitzpatrick said, the facility will allow for “At the Throttle” events similar to those that have been held at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina, where patrons have paid $611 to operate the 611 for a half-hour.

Wednesday, Fitzpatrick said that Norfolk Southern has given the museum the go-ahead to determine a location and get preliminary estimates on any changes to train tracks that might be needed. The museum has about $1 million saved toward the project.

The question of whether or not the 611 will be able to use the Amtrak platform for excursions appears to have an answer.

Fitzpatrick said the engine will not be able to roll up next to the platform, because it’s too wide. However, the passenger cars it pulls match modern specifications, so the 611 could still back the cars up beside the platform for boarding.

“We’re just glad that we have an Amtrak station coming,” Fitzpatrick said. At present the platform is scheduled for completion in late 2017.

For more information on the 611, call 342-5670 or visit vmt.org or FireUp611.org.

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Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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