Norfolk & Western's Class J No. 611 steam locomotive will offer a series of passenger excursions this fall. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Here’s a roundup of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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611 steam locomotive returns for passenger excursions this fall

The Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 steam passenger locomotive will operate a series of passenger excursions in October and November.

The Class J locomotives were designed and built in Roanoke and were widely hailed as the finest steam passenger locomotives in the world. The 1950 Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 is the sole surviving member of 14 Class J locomotives produced and is owned and operated by the Virginia Museum of Transportation as a traveling exhibit.

The 611 will remain in Roanoke for preparation and maintenance and its annual Federal Railroad Administration inspections. Following that work, public excursions will begin, hosted by the Virginia Scenic Railway.

The excursions will run twice daily as the Shenandoah Valley Limited throughout October and November. Passengers will board the train in Goshen in Rockbridge County, then travel east through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and into the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, where the train will pause without disembarking to be joined by a pair of diesel locomotives for the return trip to Goshen.

Tickets will be available for purchase in mid-August via Virginia Scenic Railway’s website. Tickets will range from $99 to $249 per seat, depending on class of service.

The Shenandoah Valley Limited will depart at 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Oct. 6-8
  • Oct. 13-15
  • Oct. 20-22
  • Oct. 27-29
  • Nov. 3-5

More information is available online at the Virginia Scenic Railway and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

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Ideas sought for new Uptown Martinsville mascot

Martinsville’s Uptown Partnership is holding a mascot design contest for residents to vote on a mascot to represent Uptown Martinsville.

The contest will run through Sept. 7.

“This is a really fun way to engage our residents and promote our Main Street District,” Christina Slate, president of the Uptown Partnership, said in a news release announcing the contest. “The mascot will be a staple of Uptown, attending events and interacting with children and tourists. We want a mascot that will create a positive image for our community and serve as an ambassador for Uptown.”

During the first phase of the contest, residents will get to vote for what they want the mascot to be. Some initial concepts will be presented, but residents also can suggest their own ideas. After the votes have been tallied, a committee will create multiple versions of the concept and residents will be able to vote on the final design.

Following the contest, the Uptown Partnership will fund the costs of creating the mascot costume and associated merchandise to promote Uptown Martinsville.

Residents can vote on Facebook or online.

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Alleghany County honored for schools merger

Alleghany County has received the Virginia Association of Counties’ Best Achievement Award for its role in creating Alleghany Highlands Public Schools, representing the association’s highest honor for 2023.

AHPS was created on July 1, 2022, through the merger of Alleghany County Public Schools, Covington City Public Schools and Jackson River Technical Center. The merger followed decades of discussion between Alleghany County and Covington on creating a joint school division.

“What Alleghany County achieved is historic — a feat that has been accomplished only three
times in the Commonwealth since 1982,” Sheryl Bailey, a visiting professor of practice
at Virginia Tech and one of the judges in this year’s awards program, said in a news release announcing the award.

The application materials also recognize the pivotal role of the city of Covington. The award recognizes Alleghany County as the recipient of the award because it is a program administered by the Virginia Association of Counties. 

The contest received 135 submissions from across the state, the news release said.

Alleghany Highlands Public Schools is jointly funded by Alleghany County and Covington. The school division serves approximately 2,700 students.