ROANOKE, Va. – New community events were announced Saturday by the Virginia Museum of Transportation Inc. for its 611 Class J locomotive and plans to continue working to explore new opportunities for 611.
Officials said 611 will not be operating public excursions in 2018, but will be participating in special events.
"We are very pleased to announce that we are engaged in substantive conversations about exciting potential 2019 excursions and special appearances for 611," according to Virginia Museum of Transportation FORWARD 611 Committee Chairman Trey Davis. "We will continue to seek opportunities for the public to experience a pivotal piece of American history firsthand, under steam."
Officials said public excursions engage audiences with railroads, produce revenue for the upkeep of the locomotive and generate significant economic impact in the communities that 611 serves.
Annual maintenance to keep the locomotive operational is ongoing and expected to be finished later this summer at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina, officials said. The 611 will be put back into service upon completion.
"We're working hard to ensure the public continues to have opportunities to engage with 611 and are planning unique events to provide opportunities to experience 611 under steam in 2018," VMT Board President Will Harris said. "The Virginia Museum of Transportation and NCTM are both planning special events with the locomotive in Roanoke and Spencer, North Carolina, respectively. In addition, 611 is slated to again be the highlight of Roanoke's Big Lick Train Tug on Sept. 29, 2018."
While event plans highlighting the Queen of Steam continue to develop, officials said efforts to provide 611 a weatherproof home at the Virginia Museum of Transportation have advanced significantly.
"With generous donors and community support, the museum has obtained a steel building that will form the core of the new 611 Preservation & Education Facility," Harris said. "We're now closer than ever before to providing future generations the opportunity to see steam technology up close, better understand a foundational technology of America's industrial power and see firsthand how the railroad helped build our country. Ideally, we would like to break ground before the end of this calendar year."
Officials said Positive Train Control is very likely to be a central issue in determining where and how 611 may operate in 2019 and beyond.
The FORWARD 611 team at VMT has been studying potential solutions and participating in discussions with other mainline steam operators. Officials said the initial cost to develop and apply Positive Train Control technology to 611 will be significant and there will be recurring annual expenses.
In the absence of revenue-generating excursions in 2018, supporters are being asked to consider a donation to FireUp611 to support this and other investments in 611's future.