New tourist train excursion could be coming to Roanoke

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ROANOKE (WSLS10) -A new rail attraction could be coming to the Star City, bringing with it major tourism dollars if all goes as planned.

Norfolk Southern is considering donating the Roanoke Belt Line to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

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Rail enthusiasts will be excited to know that leaders there are hoping to use it as a tourist train excursion.

"This is a donation that we have hoped for, for quite a long time," said Fran Ferguson, Director of Development at VMT.

Ferguson says, they've been working on securing the donation of the Belt Line rails, and the money to launch the excursion for years. But, it's not a done deal yet.

After completing the restoration of the 611 ‘Steam Queen', the next most asked for attraction from visitors is a small tourist train through Roanoke, Ferguson said.

"There is not another one in the state of Virginia and it would be so much more compelling and draw visitors to the Roanoke Valley," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says the Roanoke Belt Line is about 2 and half miles long which would be about an hour long ride with a diesel engine train.

While the 611 would not be able to run on those tracks, the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society, a partner of VMT could provide diesel trains to carry passenger cars for the excursion.

Leaders at VMT have already purchased property near George's Flowers off of Franklin Road in Roanoke to build a passenger boarding station and three passenger rail cars.

Ferguson says the rail cars need a lot of work before they can be used.

If VMT can secure the tracks from Norfolk Southern, Executive Director Beverly Fitzpatrick says, it will cost nearly four-hundred-thousand dollars to renovate, but it's a project they believe is worth it.

"We see this as a great economic development opportunity for Roanoke. We are looking forward for this being another way to draw tourists and visitors to the Roanoke Valley," Ferguson said.

Ultimately, the donation must be approved by the service transportation board.

VMT and it's partners have worked through complicated legal processes to ensure the donation can be made.

There is no estimated time in which a decision will be made.

If the deal goes through, it could take several years to complete.

To donate to the project or the Virginia Museum of Transportation visit their website to learn how.

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