Norfolk and Western Railway class J (1941)

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Norfolk & Western J Class (1941)
611 on turntable.jpg
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
BuilderRoanoke Shops
Build date1941–1950
Total produced14
 • Whyte4-8-4
 • UIC2′D2′ h2
Gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Leading dia.36 in (914 mm)
Driver dia.70 in (1,778 mm)
Trailing dia.42 in (1,067 mm)
Length109 ft 2 in (33.27 m)
Width11 ft 2 in (3.40 m)
Height16 ft 2 in (4.93 m)
Axle load72,000 lb (32,658.7 kilograms; 32.7 tonnes) for drivers
Adhesive weight288,000 lb (130,634.6 kilograms; 130.6 tonnes)
Loco weight494,000 lb (224,074.6 kilograms; 224.1 tonnes)
Tender weight378,600 lb (171,730.1 kilograms; 171.7 tonnes)
Total weight872,600 lb (395,804.7 kilograms; 395.8 tonnes)
Fuel typeCoal
Fuel capacity70,000 lb (31,751.5 kilograms; 31.8 tonnes)
Water cap20,000 US gal (76,000 l; 17,000 imp gal)
25,000 US gal (95,000 l; 21,000 imp gal) in auxiliary tender
 • Firegrate area
107.7 sq ft (10.01 m2)
Boiler pressure275 lbf/in2 (1.90 MPa) (as built)
300 lbf/in2 (2.07 MPa)
Heating surface:
 • Tubes and flues
4,693 sq ft (436.0 m2)
 • Firebox578 sq ft (53.7 m2)
 • Heating area2,177 sq ft (202.2 m2)
Cylinder size27 in × 32 in (686 mm × 813 mm)
Valve gearBaker
Valve typePiston valves
Performance figures
Maximum speed110 mph (177 km/h)
Power output5,300 hp (4,000 kW)
Tractive effort84,981 lbf (378.01 kN)
Factor of adh.3.39
OperatorsNorfolk & Western RailwayNorfolk Southern Railway
Virginia Museum of Transportation (Fire Up 611! Campaign)
ClassJ (3rd)
Number in class14
Retired1959 (revenue service)
1994 (1st excursion service)
PreservedOne (No. 611) preserved, remainder scrapped
RestoredNo. 611; 1981–1982 (1st restoration)
2014–2015 (2nd restoration)
Current ownerVirginia Museum of Transportation (No. 611)
DispositionNo. 611 operational in excursion service, based in Roanoke, Virginia

The Norfolk and Western J class was a class of fourteen 4-8-4 "Northern" streamlined steam locomotives built by the railway's own Roanoke Shops located in Roanoke, Virginia from 1941 to 1950 and operated by the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) in revenue service until the late 1950s.

These locomotives were built to run on the N&W main line between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio, pulling the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocahontas and the Cavalier passenger trains as well as ferrying the Southern Railway's the Birmingham Special, the Pelican and the Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. The class "J"s along with the class "A" and class "Y" freight steam locomotives, were embodied as Norfolk and Western's "The Big Three" and represented the pinnacle of steam technology.

Only one J-class locomotive, No. 611, survives. It was retired in 1959 from revenue passenger service and moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) in 1962. It has been restored twice: once as part of the Norfolk Southern Railway's steam program and again as part the VMT's Fire Up 611! campaign.



The first J's (Nos. 600-610) had 275 psi boilers, 70-inch (1,778 mm) driving wheels, and roller bearings on all wheels and rods; after 1945 boiler pressure was raised to 300 psi (2,100 kPa).[1] Calculated tractive effort was 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg) – the most powerful 4-8-4 without a booster. The 70-inch drivers were small for a locomotive that was able to pull trains at over 100 mph (160 km/h).[1] To overcome this, the wheelbase was made extremely rigid, lightweight rods were used and the counterbalancing was precise.[1]

As delivered, the Js had a duplex (two) coupling rods between the main (second) and third drivers (tandem rods), but in the 1950s Norfolk and Western's engineers deemed these unnecessary.[1] The Class J's were rebuilt with a single coupling rod between the main and third drivers.[1] The negative effect of the J's highly engineered powertrain was that it made the locomotives sensitive to substandard track.[1] While on loan in late 1945, No. 610 hauled a 1,025 t (2,259,738.2 pounds; 1,025,000.0 kilograms) passenger train with 15 cars at speeds in excess of 110 mph (180 km/h) over Pennsylvania Railroad's "racetrack", the Fort Wayne Division (a section of flat, straight track).[1][2]


The first batch of five locomotives (Nos. 600-604) was built and delivered between October 1941 and January 1942, which cost the railroad US$167,000 apiece.[2] The Js' streamlining look was designed by N&W's Tool Supervisor, Franklin C. Noel.[2] The second batch of six locomotives was delivered in 1943 without either shrouding or lightweight side rods, due to the limitations on the use of certain materials during the war; they were classified J1.[3] When N&W showed the War Production Board the reduced availability numbers because of this, the Board allowed the J1s to be re-fitted as Js with the lightweight rods and shrouding in 1945. The last batch of three locomotives were all rolled out in Summer 1950, marking the last steam passenger locomotives built in the United States.[4][5]

Table of orders and numbers[6][7]
Quantity Serial Nos. Year built N&W No. Notes
5 311–315 1941-1942 600-604 No. 602 had a booster on its trailing truck.
6 347–352 1943 605-610 Originally built without streamlining shrounds.
3 388–390 1950 611-613 No. 611 in excursion service.[8]

Revenue service[edit]

The class Js pulled the network's prominent passenger trains, such as the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocahontas, and the Cavalier between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as ferrying Southern Railway's the Birmingham Special, the Pelican, and the Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee.[1] Because of their power and speed, the class Js were among the most reliable engines, running as many as 15,000 miles (24,000 km) per month, even on the mountainous and relatively short route of the N&W.[1]

In the late 1950s, N&W began purchasing first-generation diesel locomotives, experimenting with fuel and maintenance cost. They leased several sets of EMD E6s, E7s, E8s from the Atlantic Coast Line and Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroads.[5][9] As a result, the class Js were retired from passenger service.[5] Doghouses were installed on their tenders to accommodate the head-end brakemen when the class Js were reassigned to freight service until they were all retired between 1958 and 1959.[5]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On June 12, 1946, No. 604 hauled the eastbound Powhatan Arrow after departing Cincinnati, Ohio at 8:10 A.M. for Norfolk, Virginia.[10] But at 3:18 P.M., the locomotive derailed 4 miles west of Powhatan, West Virginia due to excessive speed at 56 mph killing engineer Grover C. “Nap” Roberts and fireman Beecher Lawson.[10] In addition, twenty-three passengers, three dining car employees, and one train service employee were also injured.[10] The engine was later rebuilt.
  • On February 20, 1948, No. 607 was also hauling the Powhatan Arrow. At milepost 592, near Franklin Furnace, Ohio, 607 overturned, killing the fireman. The cause of the accident was failure to obey an automatic block-signal & entering a turnout at an excessive speed of 77 mph. 607 was rebuilt and remained in service until 1958. [11]
  • On January 23, 1956, No. 611 derailed along the Tug River near Cedar, Mingo County, West Virginia while pulling The Pocahontas.[1] It was determined that the engineer ran the engine at an excessive speed around a curve and its high center of gravity caused it to flip on its side.[1] The 611 was repaired and continued revenue passenger service.[1]
  • On October 30, 1957, in Bristol, Virginia, No. 613 rear-ended a timed freight, injuring 56 people. The accident was blamed on the fast passenger train for failing to heed warning signals.[12][13]
  • On May 18, 1986, No. 611 was at the head of a Norfolk Southern employee appreciation train from Norfolk, Virginia, with Robert Claytor at the throttle. One of the passenger cars failed to negotiate a switch on the main line through the Great Dismal Swamp, causing it and 12 other cars of the 23 car train to derail. 177 of the nearly 1000 employees and their family members were injured; some of the more seriously injured had to be airlifted to hospitals in nearby Norfolk for treatment.[14]


Only one locomotive, No. 611, has survived into preservation today. This was in part due to its excellent condition after its 1956 derailment and subsequent repair, and also in part to the efforts of photographer O. Winston Link, who offered to purchase 611 himself rather than see it scrapped.[citation needed]

The locomotive was donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in Roanoke, Virginia in 1962, where it sat dormant for two decades.[15] Since then, it has had two excursion careers. The first career took place from 1982 to 1994, when Norfolk Southern restored the locomotive to operating condition for excursion service as it became the star of their steam program pulling excursions throughout the eastern United States. 611, along with 1218, were officially donated to the Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) by the City of Roanoke on April 2, 2012.[16]

The second excursion program, since May 2015, was announced in February 2013, when the VMT formed a campaign called Fire Up 611! to return No. 611 to operating condition once again. Most recently, from late September to late October 2019, No. 611 went to Strasburg, Pennsylvania to participate in the Strasburg Rail Road's "N&W Reunion of Steam" event where it ran several trips alongside N&W 4-8-0 No. 475. Although Norfolk Southern discontinued its steam program in late 2015, the excursions pulled by 611 are now operated by the VMT.

In popular culture[edit]

The 611 was featured in a 2016 feature-length documentary called "611: American Icon" which represents the history of the locomotive and her restoration.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "N&W 611 Class J Steam Locomotive National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark". ASME. May 1984. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Young (2017), p. 207
  3. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 73.
  4. ^ Drury (2015), p. 259.
  5. ^ a b c d Young (2017), p. 209
  6. ^ Drury (2015), p. 261.
  7. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 68.
  8. ^ "N&W Class J 611". Trains. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  9. ^ Solomon (2017), p. 207.
  10. ^ a b c "The 1946 Wreck of N&W's Pride & Joy – The Powhatan Arrow". The Railroader's Daughter. August 17, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Derailment of Steam Excursion Train Norfolk and Western Railway Company Train Extra 611". National Transportation Safety Board. May 18, 1986.
  15. ^ Allen, Mike (May 31, 2015). "History of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611". The Roanoke Times.
  16. ^ "Our Story". Virginia Museum Of Transportation. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
  17. ^ "611: American Icon DVD". Museum Store Virginia Museum of Transportation. Retrieved March 11, 2017.


  • Drury, George H. (2015). Guide to North American Steam Locomotives (2nd ed.). Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62700-259-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Rosenburg, Ron; Archer, Eric H. (1973). Norfolk & Western Steam (The Last 25 Years) (1st ed.). Quadrant Press Inc. ISBN 0-915276-00-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Solomon, Brian (2017). North American Locomotives: A Railroad-by-Railroad Photohistory (3rd ed.). Crestline. ISBN 978-0-7858-3533-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Young, Jan (2017). Fashion in Steel: Streamlined Steam Locomotives in North America (1st ed.). ISBN 978-1-387-40861-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Miller, Kenneth L. (2000). Norfolk and Western Class J: The Finest Steam Passenger Locomotive (1st ed.). Roanoke Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, Inc. ISBN 0-615-11664-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]