The Atlantic Coast Line, Standard Railroad of the South

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, also known as the ACL or Coast Line, was synonymous with the South and served points from Richmond, Virginia to Florida and east to Birmingham, Alabama. The railroad was also very profitable being that it served direct north-south routes from Florida to Richmond. It also held one of the most unique paint schemes of any Class I of both its day, having a beautiful purple and silver livery with yellow trim. Remembered in the likes of the Southern Railway in later years the ACL was highly respected throughout most of its existence and like the Southern was blessed with excellent management and never faced any serious bankruptcy threat up until its merger with the Seaboard Air Line in the late 1960s to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.  

The last surviving of its kind, E3A #501 makes an appearance outside of the roundhouse at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer on January 13, 2007. Its purple and silver passenger livery was one of the most unique ever developed.

The Atlantic Coast Line began its life like many classic fallen flags, put together and shaped through a series of mergers with small railroads. Its earliest predecessor was the Richmond & Petersburg chartered in 1836, and after linking with the Petersburg Railroad the two made a through connection from Richmond to North Carolina. Throughout the 1800s there were numerous smaller lines that would go on to form the ACL including the Wilmington & Weldon, Wilmington & Raleigh, and North Eastern which served points between South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (including the ports of Wilmington, NC and Charleston, SC).  The Coast Line itself would begin to take shape when all of these railroads came under the control of William Walters, a Baltimore investor. In the late 1800s these railroads would come under the holding company of the Atlantic Coast Line Company. The railroad’s growth would not end with the 1800s.

Atlantic Coast Line's Many Passenger Trains

It should be noted that the ACL reached New York via the Pennsylvania Railroad and eastern Florida via the Florida East Coast Railway. The railroad likewise ferried other railroads most prestigious trains to and from Florida.

Champion:  (New York/Boston - Miami)

Everglades: (New York - Jacksonville)

Florida Special: (New York - Miami/St. Petersburg)

Gulf Coast Special: (New York - Tampa/Ft. Myers/St. Petersburg)

Havana Special: Connected New York with Key West until the devastating 1935 Hurricane which destroyed the Florida East Coast's Key West Extension.

Miamian: (Washington - Miami)

Palmetto: (New York - Savannah/Augusta/Wilmington)

Vacationer: (New York - Miami)

As each of its original lines were slowly merged into the holding company the ACL grew tremendously just after the turn of the century when it acquired the Plant System, a series of rail lines running throughout Georgia and Florida, and took control of the Louisville & Nashville, which served northeastern points from the ACL’s core system.  The rest of the railroad would come together in the 1920s when it gained control of the Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast giving it a link to western southeastern cities such as Birmingham, Alabama. In all, including its subsidiaries, the ACL was a giant system serving nearly every major southeastern market from Kentucky and Virginia, south to Alabama and Florida. Like a giant, and being well managed it earned substantial profits, calling on the L&N for help during the few short times when money was hard to come by.

Other Fabled Southern Lines

Seaboard Air Line, "Through The Heart Of The South"

Seaboard Coast Line, ACL's Successor: "We're Pulling For You"

Central of Georgia, Serving The Deep South

Clinchfield Railroad, The Southern Coal Hauler

Florida East Coast, "Speedway To Sunshine"

Illinois Central, "The Main Line Of Mid-America"

Columbus & Greenville, The CAGY: Where Baldwins Roam 

Lancaster & Chester, "The Springmaid Line" 

Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, "The Rebel Route"

Louisville & Nashville, "The Old Reliable"

Aberdeen & Rockfish, Serving North Carolina Since 1892

The Original Norfolk Southern, Before Today's NS

Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac: Staying True To Its Slogan, "Linking North & South" 

Durham & Southern, "Service With Courtesy"

East Tennessee & Western North Carolina, "The Tweetsie" 

Norfolk & Western, From Tipple To Tidewater

Southern Railway, "Look Ahead - Look South"

When the "Great Depression" hit in the fall of 1929 the ACL was able to weather the storm and the worst of the times (through the mid-1930s) by its excellent management team and frugal financial practices even though freight traffic was down more than 50% and passenger traffic was off by more than 60%. With the help of its subsidiary, the L&N, it was soundly able to avoid receivership and bankruptcy.  After the Great Depression the Atlantic Coast Line would live out the rest of its life upgrading its equipment and infrastructure. By 1955 the railroad had totally dieselized its motive power fleet, purchasing locomotives from EMD, GE, and Alco. Also by the 1950s the railroad had upgraded its infrastructure substantially.

By that time most of its main line was double-tracked between Florida and Virginia, and it had put in Centralized Traffic Control and automatic block signaling to more efficiently handle train movements (especially on its signal-track segments, where CTC is predominantly used). The railroad had also become a high-speed highway and freights were flying up and down the coast averaging 50 mph.   The ACL also had a thriving passenger business for years, once again due to its well-positioned north-south routing. Because the railroad served literally the entirety of Florida it handled a number of trains coming from all different directions as travelers flocked to the state's sunny, tropical beaches. 

Seaboard Coast Line GP38-2 #535 rolls light through the West Columbia yard in South Carolina during May of 1986.

This strategic positioning of handling so many Florida-bound trains, coupled with its own passenger fleet, the railroad enjoyed the very rare privilege of the passenger business being profitable, even into the 1950s and 1960s when many railroads were bowing out of the market. The ACL was so successful that it even continued to build new stations and depots into the 1960s!  As a result it’s interesting to wonder what the future may have held for the company had the railroad not merged. Alas, this was the ACL’s fate like so many others during the same period. Mergers, if planned and implemented correctly can save a railroad millions of dollars down the road and this was the very reason behind the merger with Seaboard Air Line, discussing the option seriously as early as the late 1950s.  For more information about the ACL please click here to visit the Atlantic Coast Line & Seaboard Air Line Railroads Historical Society's website.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP7100-279, 1100-11041950-1951185
SW7643-651, 717-718195011
SW9652-661, 719-7201951-195212

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Steam Locomotive Roster

For more information about the ACL's extensive steam fleet please click here.

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
C Through C-8American4-4-0
D, D-2 Through D-7American4-4-0
E Through E-13Switcher0-6-0
F Through F-5American4-4-0
G Through G-5Mogul2-6-0
I, I-1, I-3Atlantic4-4-2
K Through K-16Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
L-1 Through L-4Consolidation2-8-0
M, M-2Mikado2-8-2
P Through P-5Pacific4-6-2
Q-1Santa Fe2-10-2

Seaboard Coast Line GP40 #1512 and a trio of other units work their way with a freight train through Atlanta, Georgia during May of 1978.

While the two companies were fierce competitors, similar to the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central who would also merge during the same period, the difference between here was that the ACL and SAL had spent many years planning their new system in an effort to ensure the marriage would go smoothly.  Such efforts would pay off as the new Seaboard Coast Line, which began service officially on July 1, 1967.  The new SCL system became a very profitable venture for 13 years before merger mania again struck during the 1980s.  A series of consolidations during the 1980s, including a final union between the Seaboard System and Chessie System formed today’s CSX Transportation

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