Changes ahead for 611 excursions

VMT looks to expand route options for popular 611 excursions

By Rachel Lucas - Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Changes could be in store for future 611 steam locomotive excursions. The Steam Queen was recognized this week as the official steam locomotive of Virginia.

That recognition was earned in part because of the recent popularity of the excursions.
    
The Virginia Museum of Transportation is now looking to expand the excursions to new areas.
 
Getting ready for the weekend full of excursions ahead, the 611 was fired up Wednesday as the iconic sounds of steam blew across the rails. It's a sound that's iconic in the Star City...almost as much as the name painted across the Steam Queen herself.

The worldwide popularity of the 611 was enough to resurrect the steam engine two years ago, but Executive Director Beverly Fitzpatrick says to keep that force moving forward changes may need to happen.

"We cannot sustain excursions in the North Carolina, Virginia area after the exposure we've already had,” Fitzpatrick said.

Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge estimates the economic impact of the 611 excursions to be at least $4 million. But after two seasons of excursions in the same market, Fitzpatrick says to keep that money rolling in they are now looking to freshen up the route.

"Norfolk Southern has had us working out of Virginia and North Carolina, but we think the market right now has played out,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are just a lot of people that are going to ride anymore that haven't already ridden. So we are now talking to Amtrak about broadening that base to see if we can go a lot of other places."

A new rail service that Fitzpatrick said could mean more options for riders. Although Norfolk Southern owns the rails that Amtrak operates on, Amtrak primarily will run routes during the week, freeing up possible time and equipment, and cars to rent for weekend excursions.

"Everything is not known at the moment but it's exciting because nobody is saying no. Everybody wants to talk about the opportunities," Fitzpatrick said.

While the opportunities may be uncertain, they could potentially keep the “Spirit of Roanoke” alive for the next decade.

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