ASME-Landmark:Norfolk & Western


The 611 is the sole survivor of fourteen class "J" steam locomotives designed by Norfolk and Western (N&W) Railway mechanical engineers in 1940. These locomotives were built in the N&W Roanoke, Virginia shops between 1941 and 1950.

The "J" is the most advanced and most powerful 4-8-4 passenger locomotive ever built in terms of actual drawbar horsepower at speeds up to 50 MPH. Built during an age when other lines were abandoning steam for diesels, many design features incorporated by the N&W represent the pinnacle of steam locomotive technology.

The "J" was mounted on a rigid steel frame cast by General Steel Castings Corporation; the huge one-piece casting included not only the complete locomotive frame, but also the two cylinders, the mounting brackets for certain auxiliaries, and an extended support for the cab. The "J" featured comparatively small 70-inch drivers, which allowed an unusually large boiler. Its unique design features permitted speeds in excess of 100 mph and could, theoretically, have allowed speeds of up to 140 mph without the rail damage that could have occurred with conventional designs.

For 18 years the "Js" pulled the Powhatan Arrow, Pocahontas, and Cavalier through Roanoke on their daily 680-mile runs between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio. They also ran on the N&W portion of the joint N&W and Southern Railway routes, pulling the Pelican, the Birmingham Special, and the Tennessean that operated between Washington, D.C. and southern cities. The 611 was donated to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in 1959; it has since been restored twice and, over the years, has intermittently been used for special excursions. See ASME website for more information