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"Royal Palm": A Floridian Vacationer's Train

Last revised: January 9, 2024

By: Adam Burns

The Royal Palm was one of the earliest named passenger trains to serve the Midwest-Florida market. From the beginning the Southern provided top-notch service with the train and while it predominantly operated mostly over home rails, south of Jacksonville, Florida the Florida East Coast carried the Palm into Miami.

The earliest version of the train always carried run-through sleepers from the New York Central. However, to keep up with demand the Southern also started a seasonal, spinoff service known as the New Royal Palm.

Despite being streamlined this train had a short lifespan and was discontinued after only a few years.  The original Royal Palm carried on within the Southern's fleet for many years.

Through the 1960's services were reduced and when the train was discontinued, just a little over a year before Amtrak, it is essentially a coach-only affair.

Southern Railway F3A #4145 and an E7B have train #3, the southbound "Royal Palm," boarding in Lexington, Kentucky at around 9:40 AM on April 11, 1963. Roger Puta photo.

History and Route

The Southern's Royal Palm has a history which dates back to November, 1913.  Even during its earliest days the train still operated with run through equipment owned by the NYC and worked in conjunction with the FEC to  Miami.

In the 1920s, the train was upgraded with heavyweight cars and sleepers and continued to maintain top level service for Floridian travelers.

Interestingly, during the 1930s and early 1940s, when the streamliner era was in full swing,  the Royal Palm maintained its heavyweight status and steam power.

The Southern would have likely upgraded the train during the early '40s if it was not for the World War II conflict that caused new construction to be suspended.

The train retained this heavyweight status nearly until 1950. Directly after the war, the Southern placed orders with the Budd Company for new equipment for the Palm, as well as new diesel locomotives from Electro-Motive.

Timetable (1952)

A 1952 consist and abbreviated timetable of the "Royal Palm." Author's collection.

Additionally, the railroad decided to inaugurate another train over the route, the seasonal New Royal Palm which would operate only during the wintertime (which resulted in the Palm losing its streamlined status and operated heavyweights until the summer season returned).

Both trains departed from Cincinnati Union Terminal to much fanfare on December 17, 1949. The Southern spent a great deal of effort marketing the new train with advertisements like:

"Are you planning a trip? Take the luxurious, winter season, streamlined train New Royal Palm to Atlanta, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, Toledo, Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Toronto."

Timetable (November, 1930)

Read Down Time/Leave (Chicago Section - New York Central/Big Four Route) Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Chicago Section - New York Central/Big Four Route)
9:50 PM (Dp)
Chicago, IL (Central Station) (CT)
7:35 AM (Ar)
2:55 AM
Indianapolis, IN
1:45 AM (Ar)
6:50 AM (Ar)
Cincinnati, OH (ET)
11:55 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Detroit Section - New York Central/Big Four Route) Location Time/Arrive (Detroit Section - New York Central/Big Four Route)
11:20 PM (Dp)
Detroit, MI (Michigan Central Station) (ET)
7:50 AM (Ar)
1:05 AM
Toledo, OH
6:05 AM
5:05 AM
Springfield, OH
1:30 AM
5:45 AM
Dayton, OH
12:55 AM
7:20 AM (Ar)
Cincinnati, OH
11:30 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Buffalo Section - New York Central) Location Time/Arrive (Buffalo Section - New York Central)
7:25 PM (Dp)
Buffalo, NY
12:45 PM (Ar)
8:21 PM
Dunkirk, NY
11:50 AM
8:43 PM
Westfield, NY
11:27 AM
9:26 PM
Erie, PA
10:45 AM
10:23 PM
Ashtabula, OH
9:48 AM
12:20 AM
Cleveland, OH (Big Four Route)
7:30 AM
4:15 AM
Columbus, OH
3:25 AM
7:45 AM (Ar)
Cincinnati, OH
11:45 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Southern Railway) Location Time/Arrive (Southern Railway)
8:30 AM (Dp)
Cincinnati, OH (ET)
10:00 PM (Ar)
7:30 AM (Dp)
Cincinnati, OH (CT)
9:00 PM (Ar)
9:35 AM
Lexington, KY
6:50 PM
4:00 PM (Ar)
Chattanooga, TN (Terminal Station)
11:20 AM (Dp)
4:10 PM (Dp)
Chattanooga, TN (Terminal Station)
11:05 AM (Ar)
8:20 PM (Ar)
Atlanta, GA (CT)
7:15 AM (Dp)
8:30 PM (Dp)
Atlanta, GA (CT)
7:00 AM (Ar)
9:30 PM (Dp)
Atlanta, GA (ET)
8:00 AM (Ar)
11:45 PM
Macon, GA
5:50 AM
4:15 AM
Valdosta, GA
1:20 AM
7:30 AM (Ar)
Jacksonville, FL
10:10 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Miami Section - Florida East Coast Railway) Location Time/Arrive (Miami Section - Florida East Coast Railway)
9:10 AM (Dp)
Jacksonville, FL
9:00 PM (Ar)
10:05 AM
St. Augustine, FL
8:05 PM
4:40 PM
West Palm Beach, FL
1:50 PM
6:40 PM (Ar)
Miami, FL
12:01 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (St. Petersburg Section - Seaboard Air Line) Location Time/Arrive (St. Petersburg Section - Seaboard Air Line)
10:00 AM (Dp)
Jacksonville, FL
8:25 PM (Ar)
12:15 PM
Ocala, FL
5:58 PM
3:01 PM
Plant City, FL
3:10 PM
3:40 PM
Tampa, FL
2:35 PM
4:50 PM
Clearwater, FL
1:15 PM
4:55 PM
Belleair, FL
1:09 PM
5:45 PM (Ar)
St. Petersburg, FL
12:30 PM (Dp)

The standard New Royal Palm featured a consist that included coaches, a diner-lounge, sleeper, and a sleeper-buffet-lounge observation.

At Cincinnati the train would pick up its through sleepers owned by the New York Central, which typically came from regional trains the Michigan Special and Ohio Special.

These additional cars included sleepers, of course, as well as lounges and coaches. Of note, the Southern also operated another train on the same route as both the Palm and New Royal Palm, the Ponce de Leon. This train began operations in 1924 and ran a reversed schedule of its two counterparts.

The train always operated with heavyweight equipment and was finally pulled from service in the mid-1960s.  The interiors of both Palms featured classic Floridian scenes helping to invoke the sense of warm weather, white sands, and sunny skies.

Timetable (January, 1951)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #309/New York Central) Milepost Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #302/New York Central)
11:30 PM (Dp)0.0
Detroit, MI (Michigan Central Station) (ET)
7:00 AM (Ar)
11:50 PM10
Wyandotte, MI
6:35 AM
12:17 AM34
Monroe, MI
6:00 AM
1:00 AM (Ar)57
Toledo, OH
5:20 AM (Dp)
1:15 AM (Dp)57
Toledo, OH
5:00 AM (Ar)
F 2:07 AM93
Fostoria, OH
4:00 AM
2:34 AM111
Carey, OH
3:20 AM
F 3:02 AM136
Kenton, OH
3:35 AM (Ar)160
Bellefontaine, OH
2:10 AM (Dp)
3:45 AM (Dp)160
Bellefontaine, OH
2:00 AM (Ar)
4:08 AM178
Urbana, OH
1:36 AM
4:30 AM (Ar)192
Springfield, OH
1:15 AM (Dp)
4:35 AM (Dp)192
Springfield, OH
1:10 AM (Ar)
5:20 AM218
Dayton, OH
12:35 AM
F 5:36 AM228
Miamisburg, OH
F 12:14 AM
5:52 AM238
Middletown, OH
12:01 AM
6:34 AM265
Winton Place, OH
11:26 PM
6:50 AM (Ar)270
Cincinnati, OH (Union Terminal) (ET)
11:15 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #410/Except Saturday/New York Central) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #437/Except Saturday/New York Central)
11:45 PM (Dp)0.0
Chicago, IL (Central Station) (CT)
7:30 AM (Ar)
11:56 PM6
Woodlawn, IL (63rd Street Station)
7:15 AM
1:10 AM54
Kankakee, IL
6:10 AM
1:45 AM54
Sheldon, IL
F 5:10 AM
2:40 AM129
Lafayette, IN
3:45 AM
4:20 AM (Ar)193
Indianapolis, IN
1:55 AM (Dp)
4:40 AM (Dp)193
Indianapolis, IN
1:35 AM (Ar)
Shelbyville, IN
F 12:51 AM
5:37 AM240
Greensburg, IN
12:25 AM
F 6:25 AM280
Lawrenceburg Junction, IN (CT)
8:00 AM (Ar)302.5
Cincinnati, OH (Union Terminal) (ET)
11:55 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #417/New York Central) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #442/New York Central)
12:15 AM (Dp)0.0
Cleveland, OH (Union Terminal) (ET)
6:55 AM (Ar)
12:25 AM6
Linndale, OH
6:37 AM
F 1:40 AM66
Shelby, OH
F 5:20 AM
2:00 AM75
Crestline, OH
5:02 AM
2:20 AM79
Galion, OH
4:50 AM
3:30 AM (Ar)137
Columbus, OH
3:30 AM (Dp)
3:50 AM (Dp)137
Columbus, OH
3:15 AM (Ar)
4:55 AM (Ar)182
Springfield, OH
2:10 AM (Dp)
5:05 AM (Dp)182
Springfield, OH
1:58 AM (Ar)
5:50 AM207
Dayton, OH
1:20 AM
6:20 AM228
Middletown, OH
12:38 AM
7:10 AM255
Winton Place, OH
12:01 AM
7:25 AM (Ar)260
Cincinnati, OH (Union Terminal) (ET)
11:50 PM
Time/Leave (Train #5/Southern Railway) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #6/Southern Railway)
8:30 AM (Dp)270
Cincinnati, OH (Union Terminal) (ET)
10:15 PM (Ar)
9:10 AM352
Lexington, KY (CT)
7:30 PM
4:00 PM (Ar)608
Chattanooga, TN (Terminal Station) (ET)
2:15 PM (Dp)
4:10 PM (Dp)608
Chattanooga, TN (Terminal Station) (ET)
2:05 PM (Ar)
7:40 PM (Ar)761
Atlanta, GA (Terminal Station)
10:30 AM (Dp)
7:50 PM (Dp)761
Atlanta, GA (Terminal Station)
10:10 AM (Ar)
9:50 PM (Ar)848
Macon, GA
8:10 AM (Dp)
10:00 PM (Dp)848
Macon, GA
8:00 AM (Ar)
4:05 AM (Ar)1110
Jacksonville, FL
1:50 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #5/Florida East Coast Railway) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #6/Florida East Coast Railway)
4:25 AM (Dp)1111
Jacksonville, FL
1:30 AM (Ar)
5:01 AM1148
St. Augustine, FL
12:48 AM
5:43 AM1215
Ormond, FL
12:01 AM
5:54 AM1221
Daytona Beach, FL
11:54 PM
6:27 AM1236
New Smyrna Beach, FL
11:32 PM
F 6:59 AM1265
Titusville, FL
F 10:47 PM
7:18 AM1285
Cocoa-Rockledge, FL
10:28 PM
7:39 AM1305
Melbourne, FL
10:08 PM
8:15 AM1339
Vero Beach, FL
9:37 PM
8:34 AM (Ar)1353
Fort Pierce, FL
9:23 PM (Dp)
8:40 AM (Dp)1353
Fort Pierce, FL
9:15 PM (Ar)
9:03 AM1372
Stuart, FL
8:50 PM
9:18 AM1386
Hobe Sound, FL
8:32 PM
9:46 AM1410
West Palm Beach, FL
8:07 PM
9:59 AM1417
Lake Worth, FL
7:51 PM
10:13 AM1428
Delray Beach, FL
7:37 PM
10:24 AM1436
Boca Raton, FL
7:26 PM
10:33 AM1444
Pompano Beach, FL
7:17 PM
10:46 AM1452
Fort Lauderdale, FL
7:05 PM
10:59 AM1459
Hollywood, FL
6:53 PM
11:25 AM (Ar)1455
Miami, FL
6:30 PM (Dp)

Perhaps the most impressive feature of each train was the sleeper-buffet-lounge observation. These cars were built by Pullman-Standard and featured a split-level design with large rear windows that was somewhat unique within the industry.

Passengers were also treated to incredibly scenic views through the Appalachians when traveling south of Cincinnati as the trains passed through the Southern's famed "Rathole Division" (Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific) to Chattanooga, so-named for the numerous tunnels spread out along the line.  

Consist (1952)

From a scheduling standpoint the Palm was able to cover the route between Cincinnati and Jacksonville in just under 20 hours (roughly 820 miles); after departing Cincinnati at 8:30 A.M., arrival time in Jacksonville was usually at 4:05 A.M. the following day.

From that point the FEC carried the train the final 366 miles in about 7 hours arriving in Miami by around 11:25 A.M. that same day.

Southern F3A #6704 is tied down with what's left of the "Royal Palm" at Valdosta, Georgia on October 11, 1966. American-Rails.com collection.

Final Years

While Southern was highly regarded for its level of service it was not immune to the rapid decline of rail travel during the 1950s.

By 1955, after just six years of service, the Southern pulled the New Royal Palm from its timetable and applied all of its equipment to the Palm.  

By 1960 the Palm lost its NYC through sleepers as well as its connections with the FEC to Miami (the train now terminated at Jacksonville).

By 1967 the train was all but dead; while still on the timetable Southern only operated it as a coach-only run between Cincinnati and Atlanta, long gone were the days of full service and on-board meals.

Ultimately, the train would not survive Amtrak's start as the Southern canceled it entirely by January 31, 1970.

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