Norfolk & Western Steam: The final years. Norfolk & Western J-Class Northern #611 runs through the Fairview section of the Strasburg Railroad, hauling a vintage freight reminiscent of what the J's typically handled toward the end of the steam era. As cleaner, more efficient diesel-electrics locomotives became available, the N&W still held on to some of its classic, indigenous steam locomotives, assigning them to freights until the diesel tide was not to be denied. The 611 herself was retired in 1959, after just a 9 year career.
After its retirement from regular service, N&W 611 was fortunate to be saved as the last example of its class. It became an exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) in Roanoke. From the early 1980s until 1994, the locomotive enjoyed a second life as an excursion engine, when there was friendly management at Norfolk & Western, which then merged with Southern Railways to form Norfolk Southern. That arrangement ended when an accident, not involving 611, sparked insurance concerns that railroad management was unwilling to live with. Some two decades later, in 2015, a second excursion career was kicked off, this time with private fund-raising.....and again, friendly management at Norfolk Southern. Unfortunately, this time, the good times lasted just 3 seasons. The friendly management retired and a major host railroad implemented new restrictions that pretty much ruled out mainline steam. The 611, which cost millions to restore, and which had a dozen years left on its Form 4, was left without a place to run.
After a relatively quiet 2018, the VMT developed an agreement with the owner of the only other operable N&W steam locomotive, and that was Pennsylvania's Strasburg Railroad. A plan was created to move the 611 to the Strasburg line, where steam rules the rails, for an entire one-month period, during which multiple public events would be held, including passenger trips, hand-on-throttle sessions and photography events involving both 611 and Strasburg's N&W Locomotive #475. All of these events proved to be very successful, benefiting both organizations financially, and giving 611s fans a chance to see her running once again, albeit at speeds well below what she did on the NS mainline. The scene above was captured at one of these events. Hopefully, the VMT will succeed in developing additional partnerships with other railroads in the future, as there never seems to be any shortage of interest in seeing the 611 in action, or folks willing to pay to see it.