This past weekend, Norfolk & Western J-Class 4-8-4 pulled its first excursion trip in over 20 years and returned under its own power to its hometown of Roanoke VA. This was an immensely popular event in both the railroad and local communities, as an estimated 70,000 people saw the train make the trip home.
With all of the excitement surrounding this, it can be pretty easy to feel left out if you can’t make it down to Virginia yet. I decided to join the excitement by recreating it in a train simulator. Even if you were there, recreating this trip in a train sim allows you to take the throttle and relive the adventure. I’ll walk you through everything I did to recreate the trip home!
First, you’ll need a copy of either Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS) or Open Rails. MSTS can be found on sites like Amazon or eBay (it is out of print), while Open Rails is a free open-source software. The screenshots and video were taken from Open Rails.
The next step is to download the routes. Last weekend, 611 traveled from the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer NC to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke VA. The line from the NCTM to Greensboro NC (where the line turns north) is replicated in the NC Piedmont Corridor route by Joseph Bundy and can be downloaded for free at Trainsim.com (ncrr_v2.zip). The trip took me about an hour and a half to complete.
As of writing this, there is no route from Greensboro to Roanoke, so I used Paul Charland’s upcoming Connecticut River Valley route for replicating the “feel” of this portion of the line (the route is still in beta testing and not yet released). There is also the NS Pocahontas District, which will probably see #611 in the future (Trainsim.com, pokeyv1.zip).
Lastly, you’ll need rolling stock. For my train, I used the equipment listed below. In some cases, the exact car used on the train was not available, so I substituted a similar car. The passenger cars are from Belanger Locomotive Works/Zosa Trains, a well-known MSTS payware vendor specializing in equipment from the 1940s-1970s. There is a nice set of freeware N&W passenger cars at Trainsim.com (nwpass.zip) and Norfolk Southern OCS cars (ztnsocs.zip) you could use. The actual consist used and a history of all of the cars can be found here:
- Norfolk & Western 611 – Trainsim.com (j611.zip, nwj484.zip, and nw_j_611_update.zip)
- Auxiliary Water Tender – Trainsim.com (nwsteam.zip)
- N&W Baggage Car – BLW/ZT (Southern Railway Passenger Set)
- Norfolk Southern “Powhatan Arrow” Coaches (8) – BLW/ZT (NS Business Train Set)
- N&W “Powhatan Arrow” Coach – BLW/ZT (Southern Railway Passenger Set)
- PRR Lounge Car – BLW/ZT (PRR Passenger Equipment Pack)
- FEC Coach (used ATSF instead) – BLW/ZT (ATSF Hi-Level Passenger Set)
- ex-GN Dome Car (used DRGW instead) – BLW/ZT (DRGW Passenger Set)
- SOU Sleeper – BLW/ZT (Southern Railway Passenger Set)
- SAL Lounge Observation – BLW/ZT (Amtrak Heritage Southeast Set)
- NS Observation “Pennsylvania” – BLW/ZT (NS Business Train Set)
- NS Theatre Car “Buena Vista” – Trainsim.com (ztnsocs.zip)
Blend all of your ingredients, and you have the makings of a perfect afternoon without the crowds. I hope this helps you to enjoy the return of #611 even more!