The Seaboard Air Line Railroad, Through The Heart Of The South
The Seaboard Air Line Railroad is
perhaps best remembered for being a somewhat smaller version of the
Atlantic Coast Line as everywhere the ACL went so too did the SAL (and
thus it is not surprising that the two would decide to merge in the late
1960s). This is not to say, however, that the SAL was an inferior road
to the ACL; quite the contrary. The Seaboard held its own with its
fiercest competitor and after managing
to pull through troubled waters during the early years of its life, the
railroad provided quality freight transportation to the Southeast. After more than 100 years of continued competition between the two they finally merged in the late 1960s forming the Seaboard Coast Line. After a handful of other mergers and name changes the former SAL system wound up as part of today's CSX Transportation where many of its principal lines remain in use.
During the early years of the Seaboard Coast Line the railroad typically just patched a new number and logo over the original SAL and ACL liveries still adorning its locomotive fleet. This practice is witnessed here on a former SAL GP7, #973 at Richmond, Virginia on September 15, 1968.
all classic fallen flags, the SAL was derived over the years from
several smaller lines which merged together or were later included under
the Seaboard banner. The railroad itself has its beginnings dating
back originally to the Portsmouth & Roanoke Rail Road, which was
chartered in 1832 to connect Portsmouth, Virginia with Weldon, North Carolina a town that sat along the banks of the Roanoke River (and was
reorganized as the Seaboard & Roanoke in 1846). The other original
components of the Seaboard included the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad
(connecting Raleigh and Gaston, NC) and the Raleigh & Augusta
Air-Line Railroad (connecting Raleigh and Hamlet, NC which would control
both former lines by the 1870s).
Together these three lines formed the backbone of the later SAL which first began to come together in the latter 19th century
when John Robinson took control of the three and merged them as the
Seaboard Air Line System. Throughout the rest of the 19th century and
for the first part of the 20th century the Seaboard expanded north and
south throughout the southeast reaching cities such as Richmond,
Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Atlanta, Savannah, and points west in
Alabama (essentially everywhere rival ACL went!). The railroad also
built one of the last major main lines in recent years when it completed
an extension to Miami in 1927 (at its peak the railroad was a 4,000+
The Seaboard’s transition into a major southeastern competitor began after it fell into receivership following the Great Depression (it emerged following WWII as the Seaboard Air Line
Railroad). The railroad began to aggressively upgrade its system and
reduce expenses by purchasing new locomotives (including new
diesel-electrics) and equipment, and adding Centralized Traffic Control
(CTC) to its single-track main lines.
By the 1960s the railroad was a premier southern Class I system and
fiercely competed with the Atlantic Coast Line for both passengers and
traffic (its “Air Line” named referred to the shortest distance and
fastest delivery between two points). By its latter years the Seaboard
had a quite diverse freight traffic base which included agriculture,
aggregates, cement, perishables, and iron ore. The railroad likewise
was one of the first to champion the trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) concept
in 1950 (it also holds the distinction of being one of the relatively
few railroads to name its premier freight trains).
A former SAL RS12, #207, performs switching work at the Richmond yard on September 15, 1968.
The SAL also had an extensive and popular
passenger train fleet (partly due to the southeastern markets it
reached) including famous trains such as the Orange Blossom Special (also known as the OBS), Silver Meteor, and Silver Star
(the SAL also had a number of seasonal trains). The railroad offered
top-notch passenger service and was one of the few to continue such
right up until the end when Amtrak took over operations in 1971.
Because of this and the markets the railroad served a number of its
train soldier on today including the Silver Meteor and Silver Star. By the latter 1960s the SAL and ACL began to understand that because the
railroads operated in virtually every market as the other that merging
would be very beneficial. Mergers, if planned and implemented correctly
can save a railroad millions of dollars in the long term and this was
the very reason behind the Seaboard Air Line and ACL discussing the option seriously, as early as the late 1950s.
Tidewater: (Raleigh/Norlina, North Carolina - Portsmouth, Virginia)
Several first generation Electro-Motive units sporting various predecessor liveries (including former SAL GP7 #967) take a break at the yard in Richmond on November 16, 1968.
While the SAL and ACL were fierce competitors, similar to the Pennsylvania
Railroad and New York Central who would also merge during the same
period, the difference between the PRR/NYC and SAL/ACL partnerships was
that the ACL and SAL spent many years planning their new system in an
effort to ensure the marriage would go smoothly. Their planning would
pay off as the new Seaboard Coast Line, formed in the summer of 1967,
which soon became a very profitable venture itself for 13 years before
merging again, this time with the Chessie System to form today’s CSX