Steam locomotive trips to go through Front Royal

Virginia Museum of Transportation's Norfolk & Western Class J 611 steam locomotive is making another round of voyages after renovation work. Photo courtesy of Casey Thomason

Watching the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 steam locomotive cruise through Front Royal in June could bring a wave of nostalgia to those who remember it.

Tickets for excursions by the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s passenger locomotive – the last one in operation today – went on sale last week. The museum is offering various round trips out of North Carolina and Virginia in April, May and June. The American, a 102-mile half-day trip out of Manassas, will pass through Front Royal on June 4 and 5, turning on a wye at Riverton Junction.

Beverly Fitzpatrick Jr., executive director of the museum, said that response to the first round of 611 trips last year was enormous.

“You see grown men cry when this locomotive comes through,” he said. “We had 200,000 people last year during the excursion days who were staying on the railway watching this go by. They want to see it, they want to feel it.”

The Virginia Museum of Transportation formed a committee in 2013 for restoring the 611 and getting it rolling again. Norfolk Southern had restored the locomotive in 1981 and it ran excursions until 1994. Getting the 611 back in running order after 20 years of sitting pretty took plenty of labor and millions of dollars, and Fitzpatrick said the museum is hoping to keep the locomotive running for four to five more years.

“This locomotive is one of the fastest steam locomotives ever built,” he said. “It’s known as the most technologically advanced steam locomotive ever built – it’s an amazing product.”

Despite the work done to the 611, including replacement of the wheels from 1950 to the tune of $200,000 a pop, Fitzpatrick said most of the frame, exterior and major parts are still originals.

“One of the things that people love about the 611 is it’s not fancy, it’s just kind of a classy streamlined look…and that went down in the annals of time as one of the best designed steam locomotives ever built,” he said.

Besides the stylish exterior, Fitzpatrick said the distinct telltale whistle is a memorable part of the locomotive.

“Instead of a horn, it has a whistle – and a whistle is much different to the ear, so there’s a nostalgia I think that goes with this,” he said. “There is a lot of emotion attached to it ¬and I find it hard to grasp that maybe as deeply as I would like.”

An additional draw to the excursion out of Manassas on June 4 is the Manassas Heritage Railway Festival, where the 611 will sit on display during the afternoon. The locomotive will make one half-day excursion out of Manassas on Saturday morning and two half-day excursions on Sunday morning and afternoon.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com


• The American: a 102-mile half-day trip out of Manassas to Front Royal, on June 4 and 5.

• Tickets range in price from $129 per person for standard coach up to $899 for a private suite for up to four people.


• More information and purchase tickets: http://fireup611.org