Reprinted from

Trains Magazine, September 2010
Preservation Department by Jim Wrinn

Back Into The Fire
Norfolk Southern charts a new course for a steam program
with Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Sixteen years after Norfolk Southern dropped its corporate mainline steam excursion program, the big Eastern carrier says it's time to run steam again. This time, it'll run in partnership with Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, and involve a limited number of appearances and excursions.

The first mainline steam excursions could return to NS rails in Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's Chattanooga hometown this fall, employing coal-burning locomotives that were part of the Southern Railway, and later Norfolk Southern, steam program that ran from 1966 to 1994.

The new program, called 21st Century Steam, marks a modest, more compact return to steam - powered public relations for Norfolk Southern, which sees the need for all the friends it can get as talk or re-regulation continues to swirl in Washington, public money flows to several of its major infrastructure projects, and one of it bedrock sources of traffic, coal, remains under fire on environmental grounds.

There's also a cadre of top executives at Norfolk Southern, including Chairman and CEO Wick Moorman, who see the corporate benefit to showing up with tangible evidence about why railroads, then and now, are cool. Those southern painted F9's on the office car train have been a huge hit for Norfolk Southern. "We have a fascinating history, and we have a compelling message about how today's railroads support jobs, competition, and the economy," Moorman says. "It is a forward-looking message that resonates with people everywhere."

This version of Norfolk Southern steam won't look like the last one in many years. You won't see an extensive, every-weekend lineup of trips like before. A contractor, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, will provide the shop and the product with Norfolk Southern financial support. Headlining the show will be three veteran locomotives.

* Southern Railway 2-8-0 No. 630 (picture above), a 1904 Alco product that also ran on Southern excursions from 1968 to 1978. An extensive six year rehabilitation to Federal Railroad Administration standards is set for completion at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's Soule Shops with a target date of September.

* Southern Railway 2-8-2 No. 4501 (picture at top of the page), the 1911 Baldwin that began the Southern excursions in 1966, last ran in 1998, and requires a complete overhaul at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which owns the Mikado. Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum President Tim Andrews says the engine could be made ready to run in a year if enough laborers are assigned to the rebuild.

* Tennessee Valley Railroad 2-8-0 No, 610 (picture below), a 1952 Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton product for the U.S. Army. This engine has been the mainstay of Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum steam operations since 1990. It also appeared on several Norfolk Southern steam excursions from 1990-1993 and is due for its boiler inspections this year.

The launch of 21st Century Steam will coinside with key dates. The year 2011 will be the 4501's 100th birthday and Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's 50th, while 2012 will mark Norfolk Southern's 30th anniversary. Exhibit dates, ticketing, and other details will be announced later. Norfolk Southern and Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum will launch a Web site to support the program.

For now, the company will respond to emails addressed to

Norfolk Southern's return to steam-powered public relations underscores how railroads - Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, and BNSF Railway already know this - can shape their own public image by just showing up with a engine hot and under steam.


October 30th, 2010