Popular 611 excursions stopped after change in Amtrak policy

By Alison Wickline - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - All 611 excursions are officially on hold.

After a change in Amtrak's policy, the beloved steam engine will not be rolling through Roanoke in 2018.

"It's a huge loss to the communities that she served," said Bev Fitzpatrick, retired Virginia Museum of Transportation director.

The 611 is near and dear to Bev Fitzpatrick's heart. He says the change in policy related to special train trips was shocking. 

"We had brought something back to life that benefited the entire community," said Fitzpatrick.

The 611 is not only a piece of Roanoke's history, it is an economic driver. In the past couple of years, 611 excursions have generated millions of dollars that not only benefit the Virginia Museum of Transportation, but also the Roanoke Valley. 

"It just brings in a rail fan who may not come otherwise. To us, it's just another group of people that are not going to have the opportunity to spend time here and provide us an economic impact," said Catherine Fox, vice president of public affairs and destination development for Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge. 

The Virginia Museum of Transportation is trying to adjust to the changes. The museum is looking at planning more local events where the 611 can take center stage.

"Yes, of course, we wish that we were running excursions and we'll be happy if they resume, but it's not doom and gloom. It's a great opportunity for us to have a really impactful tourism draw here in Roanoke," said Todd Marcum, who is on the executive board of directors at VMT.

The 611 is still a Star City staple, but now it's also a train without tracks.

The 611 is getting some maintenance in North Carolina right now and should return to Roanoke sometime in August.
 

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