The Florida East Coast Railway is fondly remembered for the numerous streamliners it either owned and operated itself (like the Dixie Flagler) or those which it ferried to cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale (such as the City of Miami, Silver Meteor, Champion, and many others). However, its most exotic train was not even a streamliner at all and is usually forgotten, the fabled Havana Special.
This train offered passengers to the most tropical region in the
continental United States as well as the most southern point in the
country, and it was only possible because of the vastly expensive Key
West Extension the FEC had constructed during the early 20th century.
Unfortunately, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed the extension
as well as rail service to the islands. However, it's likely a safe
assumption that had the line survived into the streamliner era, those
trains mentioned above would have continued further south than Miami.
The Florida East Coast's Havana Special has a history that is
directly tied to its Key West Extension, also known as the Florida
Overseas Railroad. The idea of the FEC's president, Henry Flagler, to
construct such a massive project was not for passenger services to the
island chain but freight. In 1905 it was announced by the United States
that a new canal would be constructed in Panama to link the Atlantic
and Pacific Oceans, thus opening a new trade route. Flager thus hoped to tap shipments head to and from the canal via a new port
in Key West as well as to Cuba and Latin America. Seven years after
that announcement, Seth Bramson notes in his book, "Speedway To Sunshine: The Story Of The Florida East Coast Railway," the first train, carrying Mr. Flagler, arrived in Key West on January 22, 1912 and the great extension was officially opened for service soon afterwards. In conjunction with this event, the railroad launched the Havana Special, at first a local train serving the FEC's home territory.
Florida East Coast's Other Trains And Through Services
The Special, however, was not meant as a regional train serving only the east coast of Florida between Key West and Jacksonville.
The FEC intended the train to operate up and down the U.S. eastern
seaboard, almost literally the entire length. To do so required a
partnership with other lines including the Atlantic Coast Line (between Jacksonville
and Richmond, Virginia), Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac (between
Richmond and Washington, D.C.), and the Pennsylvania Railroad (to New
York City). Additionally, the train offered connecting service
northward to Boston and even to Havana, Cuba via the Peninsular &
Occidental Steamship Company (which was also owned by Flagler). The entire route covered 1,523 miles to Key West and 1,596 to Havana with a complete trip requiring 42 hours either aboard train or ship (the steamships operated out of both Miami as well as Port Tampa, Key West to Havana) making the Special the longest East Coast passenger route. Its exotic nature also made the train quite successful due both to the fact that rail service was still the most efficient means of transportation at the time and the Florida East Coast spared no expense in making sure it was a magnificent operation providing top level service.
For instance, it was an all-Pullman affair all of the way to
and from New York City with a typical consist including coaches, a
lounge, a diner, six sleepers, and a parlor-observation (this varied
somewhat with the other lines).
Some of the Special's on board amenities
included fine dining from the tropics such as fresh citrus fruits, local
seafood, and other delicacies. The lounge car, located within the center of the train was perhaps the most interesting
in the consist; it offered separate areas for men and women to relax
and even included baths. Despite the fact that this was during the era of heavyweight, non-streamlined trains the Special was certainly one-of-a-kind. In the 84th volume/73rd annual issue of Railway Age & Railway View (covering the period from January 1, 1928 through June 30, 1928) through service on the Havana Special, from New York to Key West, began in 1924. In 1930, a few years after this event, travelers were given the additional option of traveling by plane to Havana and other Caribbean destinations as the FEC worked in conjunction with the Pan American airlines to provide this service via both Miami and Key West.
(The below Havana Special timetable is dated effective January 14, 1933.)