City of Roanoke Gifts Famed Locomotives in Honor of Museum’s 50th Year

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Virginia's Blue Ridge offers a rich railroad heritage mix for visitors and railfans.

Class J 611 and Class A 1218 steam locomotives on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Rail lines weave romantically throughout Virginia’s Blue Ridge, tying the region to ports and portals far beyond the beckoning Blue Ridge.

Since the railroad arrived in western Virginia in the 1850s, it continues to inspire wonder through the mystique of area museums, train-side thoroughfares and architectural gems.

Roanoke spotlights its heritage as a manufacturer of steam engines at the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. In commemoration, the City of Roanoke gifted the museum the Norfolk & Western Class A 1218 and Class J 611 steam locomotives – already two of the attraction’s most celebrated exhibits.

Headquartered in Roanoke, the famed Norfolk & Western Railway made its own locomotives, employing thousands of craftsmen in a multitude of trades, to design and maintain rail cars and engines, which helped to make it the most profitable, steam era railroad in America. In 1982, Norfolk & Western merged with Southern Railway Company, becoming Norfolk Southern Railway.

Since then, nearly all steam trains have been retired, but not out of reach for train enthusiasts. Located downtown and situated alongside a much-active rail, the transportation museum tells the history of what has kept Virginia moving. Exhibits feature antique automobiles, a restored dining car, train collectibles, model trains, horse-drawn buggies, and a trolley bus. An aviation gallery is planned to open in late fall.

But the city’s rail roots extend far beyond than the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Outside, visitors can stretch their legs with a stroll on the David R. and Susan S. Goode Rail Walk, paralleling the railroad for a third of a mile, with kiosks explaining the details of Roanoke’s iron horse history. While crossing the Market Square Walkway, an enclosed glass pedestrian bridge, visitors can catch a bird’s-eye view of the active freight trains along the massive tracks that cut through the heart of downtown. Just beyond the walkway, you can see a view of the historic Hotel Roanoke, which dates back to 1882 and also is a theme in the city’s railroad past.

Six blocks away, the century-old former Norfolk & Western Railway passenger train station boasts the O. Winston Link Museum, which tells the story of the famed New York photographer’s life and showcases his passion for the rails and the sights and sounds of steam locomotives during their dying days.

The Roanoke Valley’s celebration of rail heritage continues throughout the year with National Train Day along the tracks during the second week of May and the family-friendly Santa By Rail event the first weekend of December.

Rail enthusiasts may also experience the rail lines firsthand by jumping aboard Amtrak trains during Veteran’s Day Weekend Excursions, Nov. 10-11. Sponsored by the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, trains will depart from downtown Roanoke for day trips to Abingdon and to Shenandoah. Each scenic route will offer patrons stunning fall views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and time to explore each destination.

For more information about the Veteran’s Day Weekend Excursions or rail heritage in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, visit our website or mobile website at http://www.visitvablueridge.com or call (800) 635-5535. Also, watch the rails of downtown Roanoke on Virginia’s Rail Heritage Region Web Cam at http://www.nwhs.org/cam/vmt.

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Catherine Fox
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