611 excursions make $1.6 million economic impact on the Roanoke Valley

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – 66 years after the 611 made its first trip on Roanoke's rails, it continues to bring thousands of passengers back to the Star City.

With the passenger excursions came the tourism dollars to go with them. In fact, it is estimated the passenger excursions made an economic impact of $1.6 million in the Roanoke Valley.

Walker Nelms with the Virginia Museum of Transportation says a majority of that happened in one weekend alone.

A total of $1.6 million in revenue equals to about $400,000 a day spent on shopping, eating out and hotel rooms.

Nelms says more than 4,500 people experienced the Blue Ridge, one third of which visited from more than 100 miles away.

"Normally they probably would not have driven to Roanoke for a day but because of the 611 they came up and spent money, had fun and possibly will come back," Nelms said. "We hope they come back."

The $1.6 million is pure revenue that did not take an investment from the City to gain.

Catherine Fox, Director of Public Relations and Tourism says the 611 is one of the area's best sources of advertisement. The majority of which is publicity gained for free from train lovers across the globe.

"The idea is too, they are telling other people. They are posting it on Facebook, they are posting on Instagram," Fox said. "So there is a much larger reach, and the 611 has really drawn that attention here."

Fox says the 611 is attracting a new type of tourist to the area.

"We are known as ‘Virginia is for mountain lovers' for sure, but we feel like we are growing more and more into that ‘Virginia is for train lovers,'" Fox said.

Nelms says they hope to plan another excursion season in 2017, but ultimately that decision will be left up to Norfolk Southern.

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