The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad was a short-lived conglomerate formed
by the marriage of two of the Southeast’s largest and most profitable
railroads, the Atlantic Coast Line and the Seaboard Air Line.
The SCL was created on July 1, 1967, just prior to the formation of
the ill-fated Northeastern carrier, Penn Central. Planned and
implemented much better than the PC, the railroad carried
similarities to its northern counterpart (in that competing railroads
ultimately decided to come together) but without the chaos. The SCL had
little financial trouble, which was in no small part also due to the
fact that the companies which formed it were also well managed. The
railroad would operate as a separate entity for about sixteen years
before merging with the Louisville & Nashville, Clinchfield, West
Point Route, and others to form the Seaboard System in 1982.
first component of the SCL was the Atlantic
Coast Line, 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.
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 Atlantic Coast Line 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 ACL 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. 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 second component of the SCL was the Seaboard Air Line,
which 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.
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 Wheldon,
Virginia, 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).
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.
Both the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line were extremely
popular with tourists, all of the way up until the creation of Amtrak in
1971. This was due to the railroads' unique position in serving the southern states,
notably Florida.Tourists would flock to these warmer climates often
taking the train to get there, particularly during the winter months.
This forced both railroads to continue building new train stations
through the 1960s!
Passenger services continued on under the Seaboard
Coast Line until Amtrak in 1971. However, the new railroad gave up the
colorful liveries of the SAL and ACL for a more muted standard black and
yellow scheme. As for itself, the SCL only kept this scheme for a few
years before adopting the grey, yellow, and red "Family Lines" scheme in
1972. A marketing
tactic only it was employed by several railroads, notably the
Louisville & Nashville, Clinchfield, and a number of other smaller
lines. The railroads maintained the Family Lines name until officially
merging as part of the Seaboard System in 1982, which became part of CSX
Transportation a few years later.
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