Rail heritage lives in Virginia’s “Star City.”
By Hope S. Philbrick
Trains are an essential element of Roanoke, Virginia, from its heritage as a manufacturer of steam engines to its future Amtrak station.
Whether you geek out about trains or haven’t really ever given them much thought, three train-focused attractions in Roanoke rank as must-see:
O. Winston Link Museum, located inside the century-old Norfolk & Western Railway passenger train station, honors the work of famed New York photographer O. Winston Link. A train enthusiast and ad man, he traveled Virginia’s railroads during the 1950s and with strategic planning and light placement captured the last days of steam locomotives on film along the Norfolk & Western Railway, America’s last railroad to run exclusively steam locomotives. Decades later, his famous images are celebrated for their historic significance as well as artistic sensibility. In addition to over 300 of Link’s primarily black and white nighttime photographs and videos, the museum exhibits his photography equipment as well as his recordings of train whistles. Come for the art, stay for the recordings and leave knowing you’ll never look at trains or photography the same way.
Virginia Museum of Transportation, situated alongside an active rail, boasts retired life-size locomotives and train cars at the site of the historic Norfolk & Western Railway freight station. Climb inside railroad cars including two of the most powerful steam locomotives in existence today: the Class A 1218 and the Class J 611. Whatever you drive, your personal vehicle is going to seem tiny by comparison to these railroad behemoths. As the Official Transportation Museum of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the museum also exhibits antique automobiles, horse-drawn buggies, a trolley bus and a restored dining car and train collectibles plus model trains.
David R. and Susan S. Goode Railwalk, located on Norfolk Avenue and stretching a third of a mile from Market Street to Warehouse Row, is a paved pathway alongside an active train track. Stroll and learn: The Railwalk is home to a series of kiosks and memorabilia that detail Roanoke’s rail history. Look and listen: There’s a platform, signals, whistles, plaques, storyboards and even a radio scanner that lets you listen in on conversations between engineers and dispatchers.
Odds of Encountering Children: Moderate. All three venues are large enough to put some distance between you and any annoying little buggers that you might encounter.
Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau
101 Shenandoah Avenue, NE
Roanoke VA 24016
The CVB is housed, along with the O. Winston Link Museum, in the historic Norfolk & Western Railway passenger train station that dates back to 1881. Headquartered in Roanoke, the Norfolk & Western Railway was the most profitable railroad in America during the steam era.
– First four photos courtesy Roanoke Valley CVB; Riverwalk © HSP Media LLC
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