The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad needed its own exotic Miami-bound passenger train after rival Seaboard Air Line Railroad debuted its very successful Silver Meteor on February 2, 1939 connecting New York with Miami.
To keep pace the ACL inaugurated its own version in December of that year called the Champion. In conjunction with the Florida East Coast Railway the train provided daily service between New York and Miami.
The train featured a beautiful livery and because both the ACL and SAL served the very trendy vacation destination of Florida, their passenger trains to the Sunshine State remained popular through the late 1960s!
However, since both railroads’ flagship trains served essentially the same market when Amtrak took over intercity passenger train operations in the spring of 1971 it elected to keep the Silver Meteor only. The ACL and SAL were perhaps the only two railroads in the country to serve markets so highly demanded by passengers.
A publicity photo featuring the the Atlantic Coast Line's all-new streamliner, "The Champion" (Miami - New York), running northbound near Lake Worth, Florida on the Florida East Coast in December of 1939. On point is E3A #500 (involved in an accident during 1952 it was rebuilt to E8A specs). The original version operated at speeds of 85 mph (later increased to 100 mph) with a seven-car consist: baggage-dormitory-coach, four coaches, diner, and tavern-lounge-observation. Photo by FEC staff photographer, Harry Wolfe.
Ever since the late 1800s when Florida became more accessible to the public (by means of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway),
vacationers and travelers, particularly from the northern states, were
enamored with its tropical weather, warm breezes, and beautiful beaches.
This tropical climate gave both railroads an unprecedented marketing advantage not found on most other systems. Even as passenger rail traffic took serious hits after World War II both the Seaboard
Air Line and ACL continued to earn profits with their Florida-bound
trains all of the way up through the 1960s! (Both railroads would merge
in 1967 forming the Seaboard Coast Line system.)
Other Atlantic Coast Line Trains
Everglades: (New York - Jacksonville)
Florida Special: (New York - Miami/St. Petersburg)
Gulf Coast Special: (New York - Tampa/Ft. Myers/St. Petersburg)
Havana Special: Connected New York with Key West until the devastating 1935 Hurricane which destroyed the Florida East Coast's Key West Extension.
Miamian: (Washington - Miami)
Palmetto: (New York - Savannah/Augusta/Wilmington)
Vacationer: (New York - Miami)
A testament to this popularity can be seen in the number of trains both railroads offered to points south which included:
- Cotton Blossom (Washington, D.C. – Atlanta)
- Gulf Wind (Jacksonville – New Orleans)
- Florida Special (New York – Miami/St. Petersburg, it was a winter-only run)
- Orange Blossom Special (New York – Miami, another winter-only train)
- Palmland (New York – Tampa/Boca Grande, Florida)
- Silver Meteor (New York – Miami), Silver Comet (New York – Birmingham)
- Silver Star (New York – Miami, a train actually introduced to meet the demand of the Silver Meteor’s route!)
- Sunland (Washington, D.C./Portsmouth, Virginia – Miami)
- Miamian (New York - Miami, winter-only)
- Vacationer (New York/Washington - Miami, winter-only)
- Suwanee River Special (Cincinnati – Florida)
Seaboard Coast Line E6A #502 has train #93, "The Champion," at Lakeland, Florida on December 31, 1969. Roger Puta photo.
The ACL’s Champion was actually stylized quite similarly to the Silver Meteor
when its streamlined, lightweight equipment arrived from the Budd
Company in late 1939. The train itself was adorned in a stunning paint
scheme of colorful purple and silver with yellow trim, led by
Electro-Motive Corporation (EMC) E3 diesels.
The interior look of the
train was again similar to the Meteor and featured nautical and tropical themes in bright colors. Interestingly, the train operated over four
different railroads with its segment across the ACL roughly the
mid-point of the train's journey.
From north to south, the railroad worked in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Railroad to ferry passengers from New York City's Pennsylvania Station to Washington, D.C. (usually under electrically-powered, streamlined GG1 locomotives) where it was handled by the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac to continue its journey southward.
Once in Richmond, Virginia the train was handed over to the Atlantic Coast Line. From this point, it remained under ACL control until reaching Jacksonville, Florida and the Florida East Coast Railway.
Once the train reached Florida East Coast tracks at Jacksonville it was picked up by an equally colorful set of E3s, in an attractive bright yellow and red livery for the remainder of the journey to south Florida.
Seaboard Coast Line 56-seat coach #5607 (built by the Budd Company as Seaboard Air Line #6203 in 1939) is seen here attached to train #98, "The Champion," at Naples, Florida on March 14, 1971. Roger Puta photo.
The Atlantic Coast Line’s services to the south included:
- East Coast Champion (New York – Miami)
- West Coast Champion (New York – Jacksonville, Split To St. Petersburg And Tampa/Sarasota)
- Florida Special (New York – Miami)
- Miamian (New York – Miami)
- Vacationer (New York – Miami)
- Havana Special (New York – Key West)
- Palmetto (New York – Savannah/Augusta, Georgia/Wilmington, North Carolina)
- Everglades (New York – Jacksonville)
The ACL also operated most of these passenger trains in conjunction with the Florida East Coast, such as its Havana Special
to Key West (after the 1935 Hurricane destroyed FEC’s Key West
Extension the train then terminated as far south as Fort Myers, it was
renamed the this train was renamed the East Coast Limited in 1960 and later as the Gulf Coast Special).
The railroad’s Floridian passenger service was also so successful that
it continued building new stations up through the 1960s!
(Thanks to Bill Haithcoat for help with the information on this page.)
Another scene of Seaboard Coast Line's train #98, "The Champion," at Naples, Florida on March 14, 1971. Powering the train is streamlined doodlebug #4900. This lightweight rail car was built as Seaboard Air Line #2028 by the St. Louis Car Company in 1936. It featured a 600 horsepower, 8-cylinder diesel engine built by the Winton Motor Carriage Company. Roger Puta photo.
(The below Champion timetable is dated effective June 1, 1941.)
East Coast Tamiami Champion
West Coast Tamiami Champion
|Time/Leave (Train #177/NYNH&H)
||Time/Arrive (Train #174/NYNH&H)
|11:00 AM||0.0||Boston, MA||5:55 PM|
|12:05 PM||43.8||Providence, RI||4:55 PM|
|1:22 PM||106.0||New London, CT||3:38 PM|
|2:28 PM||156.8||New Haven, CT||2:35 PM|
|4:12 PM||229.1||New York, NY (Penn Station)||1:00 PM|
|Time/Leave (Train #135/PRR)
||Time/Arrive (Train #126/PRR)
|5:30 PM (Dp)||0.0||New York, NY (Penn Station)||11:55 AM (Ar)|
|5:45 PM||10.0||Newark, NJ||11:38 AM|
|32.7||New Brunswick, NJ||11:15 AM|
|6:35 PM||58.1||Trenton, NJ||10:52 AM|
|7:04 PM||85.9||North Philadelphia, PA||10:25 AM|
|7:13 PM (Ar) 7:16 PM (Dp)||85.9||Philadelphia, PA (30th Street Station)||10:16 AM (Dp) 10:15 AM (Ar)|
|104.8||Chester, PA||9:58 AM|
|7:45 PM||118.1||Wilmington, DE||9:43 AM|
|8:46 PM (Ar) 8:53 PM (Dp)||186.5||Baltimore, MD||8:42 AM (Dp) 8:41 AM (Ar)|
|9:35 PM (Ar)||226.6||Washington, D.C. (Union Station)||8:00 AM (Dp)|
|Time/Leave (Train #1/RF&P)
||Time/Arrive (Train #2/RF&P)
|9:55 PM (Dp)||226.6||Washingon, D.C. (Union Station)||7:30 AM (Ar)|
|12:15 AM (Ar)||340.1||Richmond, VA (Broad Street)||5:10 AM (Dp)|
|Time/Leave (Train #1/ACL)
||Time/Arrive (Train #2/ACL)
|12:20 AM (Dp)||340.1||Richmond, VA (Broad Street)||5:00 AM (Ar)|
|554.5||Fayetteville, NC||1:19 AM|
|5:09 AM (Ar) 5:14 AM (Dp)||637.3||Florence, SC||11:59 PM (Dp) 11:54 PM (Ar)|
|6:43 AM||732.5||Charleston, SC (North Station)||10:16 PM|
|8:40 AM (Ar) 8:45 AM (Dp)||849.2||Savannah, GA||8:30 PM (Dp) 8:25 PM (Ar)|
|10:11 AM||934.3||Nahunta, GA||6:47 PM|
|11:20 AM (Ar)||1001.4||Jacksonville, FL||5:40 PM (Dp)|
|Time/Leave (Train #1/FEC)
||Time/Arrive (Train #2/FEC)
|11:30 AM (Dp)||1001.4||Jacksonville, FL||5:30 PM (Ar)|
|12:05 PM||1038||St. Augustine, FL||4:46 PM|
|F 12:32 PM||1088||Bunnell, FL||F 4:17 PM|
|12:58 PM||1111||Daytona Beach, FL||3:55 PM|
|1:52 PM||1155||Titusville, FL||2:58 PM|
|2:11 PM||1175||Cocoa-Rockledge, FL||2:40 PM|
|2:32 PM||1195||Melbourne, FL||2:20 PM|
|3:04 PM||1229||Vero Beach, FL||1:50 PM|
|3:27 PM||1243||Fort Pierce, FL||1:35 PM|
|3:48 PM||1262||Stuart, FL||1:06 PM|
|F 4:01 PM||1276||Hobe Sound, FL||F 12:51 PM|
|4:30 PM||1300||West Palm Beach, FL||12:27 PM|
|4:42 PM||1307||Lake Worth, FL||12:12 PM|
|4:54 PM||1318||Delray Beach, FL||12:00 PM|
|F 5:04 PM||1326||Boca Raton, FL||F 11:50 AM|
|F 5:11 PM||1334||Pompano, FL||F 11:42 AM|
|5:22 PM||1342||Fort Lauderdale, FL (Port Everglade)||11:33 AM|
|5:34 PM||1349||Hollywood, FL||11:22 AM|
|6:00 PM||1367||Miami, FL||11:00 AM|
An aging Atlantic Coast Line E6A leads the "East Coast Champion" past AF Tower at Alexandria, Virginia in August, 1964. Roger Puta photo.
After the merger of
the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line in 1967 the SCL continued
the Champion as trains #91 (southbound) and #92 (northbound),
continuing to offer nearly full passenger train amenities including
reclining-seat coach service,
sleepers, diners, and tavern-lounges (sleeper service was particularly
rare by the late 1960s).
These services continued through the startup
of Amtrak in 1971, which continued to operate the train until 1979.
While today the train has essentially been combined into the Silver Meteor under Amtrak, it was an extremely successful operation that continues to see high ridership numbers.
Atlantic Coast Line