The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad


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.

Two SCL Geeps, a U33B, and an Alco road-switcher work their train through Acca Yard in Richmond, Virginia on October 7, 1968.

The 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.

There is quite an assortment of power, from the RF&P to SCL and Seaboard units, laying over at the Bryan Park Engine Terminal in Richmond during October of 1983.

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.

Seaboard System GP16 #4795 and another Geep moves their manifest freight through the yard at Cayce, South Carolina on May 1, 1986.

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.


Seaboard System GP38 #4076 leads a trio of other units through the yard at Wauhatchie, Tennessee during August of 1984.

For more information about the SCL please click here. Finally, for more reading about the railroad consider the book Seaboard Coast Line Family Lines Railroad 1967-1986 by author William Griffin. It gives a great general history of SCL up until its dissolution into CSX Transportation along with many excellent photographs which complement the book. If you have an interest in the SCL you will likely find this book quite interesting. 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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