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.

Like 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+ mile system).

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).

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.

A former SAL RS12, #207, performs switching work at the Richmond yard on September 15, 1968.

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.  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 Transportation.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
RS11100-109196010
C420110-1361965-196627
S1120119411
S21403-1405, 1425-14341942-194613
S41482-1491195310
RSC21500-15311947-194932
RSC31532-15431950-195112
RS21600-16281949-195029
RS31629-16841950-195256

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-660120219411
VO-10001400-14161941-194517
DS-4-4-10001417-1424, 1435-14611946-195135
S121462-1465, 1476-14811952-195310
DR-6-4-1500 (Babyface)2700-27021947-19483
DR-12-8-3000 (Centipede)4500-45131947-194814

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP18400-409196010
GP30500-5341962-196335
GP35535-544196510
GP40600-6501966-196751
SDP351100-1119196420
SW1120019391
NW21406-141219427
GP71700-1711, 1730-18221950-1952105
GP91900-1929, 1954-19791955-195956
E4A3000-30131938-193914
E4B3100-31041938-19395
E6A301419401
E7A3017-30481945-194932
E7B3105-310719483
E8A3049-30591950-195211
E9A306019631
FTA4000-40211942-194422
FTB4100-41211942-194422
F3A4022-4032194811

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
U30B800-814196715

A former SAL RSC3, now designated #1115, sits behind the Bryan Park Shops in Richmond on January 15, 1971.

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
AChesapeake2-8-8-2
B, B1Santa Fe2-10-2
400, D Through D-5Decapod2-10-0
100-104, E (Various), G Through G3American4-4-0
F1 Through F7, L5Switcher0-6-0
F9Switcher0-8-0
F1 Through F4Switcher0-6-0
H, H1, L, L1, L3Consolidation2-8-0
E8, I (Various), K (Various), L (Various)Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
M, M-1, M-2Mountain4-8-2
P, P-1, P-2Pacific4-6-2
Q Through Q-4Mikado2-8-2
R-1, R-2Articulated2-6-6-4

Notable Passenger Trains

Cotton Blossom: (Washington - Atlanta)

Gulf Wind: (Jacksonville - New Orleans)

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

Orange Blossom Special: (New York - Miami)

Palmland: (New York - Tampa/Miami/Boca Grande)

Silver Comet: (New York/Portsmouth - Birmingham)

Silver Meteor: (New York - Miami/St. Petersburg/Venice/Fort Meyers)

Silver Star: (New York - Miami/St. Petersburg/Venice/Boca Grande)

Sunland: (Washington/Portsmouth - Miami/Venice)

Suwanee River Special: (Cincinnati - Florida)

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.

For more information about SAL successor, Seaboard Coast Line and the Family Lines system consider the book Seaboard Coast Line Family Lines Railroad 1967-1986 from William Griffin, Jr. The book, filled with colored photographs, gives a great overview of the mergers (Seaboard Coast Line, the marketed Family Lines name, and Seaboard System) leading up to the eventual formation of CSX Transportation in 1987. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

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