Roanoke’s storied N&W locomotive shops seeing new use – Genesis Rail Services II moves in

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
image description
An engineer in the cab of N&W J-Class 611, perhaps the most famous among the engines built at Roanoke shops. This engine has been refurbished and runs on periodic steam excursions. Note the nod to Roanoke below the engineer’s right arm.
File photo

ROANOKE – Norfolk Southern's (née Norfolk & Western's) locomotive shops in Roanoke, Va., originally known as the Roanoke Machine Works was the city's largest employer and manufactured some of the best, most advanced steam locomotives to ride the rails.

Building and service steam locomotives from 1884 and 1953, the most famous of the nearly 500 locomotives it built were the Class Y, designed to haul heavy coal trains in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, the Class A, which was used for both high-speed freight and passenger service, and the beautiful Class J, designed to pull fast passenger trains.

In 2022, Genesis Rail Services, a company that performs heavy rail infrastructure work, cleans up derailments, and does trackwork, leased part of the former East End Shops, and has consolidated its facilities there, moving from Bluefield, W. Va. Genesis Rail was actually purchased by another company in 2021 and is now called Genesis Rail Services II.

According to the Roanoke Times, Thomas Hayden, Chief Operating Officer of Genesis, said “We leased what we thought we could grow into in five-year span. Hopefully, we’ll write a next chapter for this facility. Certainly better than it falling to the ground,” referencing the 260,000 square feet that it has leased in the shops.

The shops have been through something like this before, when FreightCar America leased the space to build rail cars in 2005. FreightCar America operated there until 2019, along with a few Norfolk Southern employees engaged in engine servicing and repair. FreightCar announced in 2019 that it would close the facility at Roanoke, ultimately moving the jobs to Mexico a short time later. Once this happened, NS said it would completely close the shops, as it only had 85 employees there and would shift the Roanoke work to its’ large shops in Altoona, Pa.

While Genesis may have a chance to expand and fully utilize this facility, we’d like to take a look at the three famous locomotive types built in the shop over the decades – the J, the A, and the Y-class.

N&W J-Class 611. Photo by David C. Lester

N&W Class A 1218. Photo by David C. Lester

N&W Class Y6a. Photo by David C. Lester

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