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The Havana Special

Last revised: April 2, 2024

By: Adam Burns

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 the chance to visit the most tropical region in the continental United States as well as the most southern point in the country. 

This was also possible thanks to the efforts of Henry Flagler and his Key West Extension, constructed during the early 20th century. 

But its purpose was not solely for passenger transportation; it was built specifically to handle a deep water port which never materialized into a booming trade center as Flagler had hoped. 

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.

In this postcard, a Florida East Coast passenger consist on Seven Mile Bridge along the Key West Extension.


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 the United States government announced  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.

Consist (1930)

Key West Extension

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. 

Another postcard featuring a Florida East Coast passenger train running the Key West Extension as it crosses Long Key Viaduct.

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.  

Timetable (January 14, 1933)

Read Up Time/Leave (Train #141/PRR) Milepost Location Read Down
Time/Arrive (Train #110/PRR)
10:05 PM (Dp)0.0
New York, NY (Penn Station) (ET)
6:45 AM (Ar)
10:27 PM10
Newark, NJ
6:19 AM
11:23 PM58
Trenton, NJ
11:55 PM85
North Philadelphia, PA
4:49 AM
12:05 AM (Ar)91
West Philadelphia, PA
4:39 AM (Dp)
12:07 AM (Dp)91
West Philadelphia, PA
4:38 AM (Ar)
12:41 AM118
Wilmington, DE
F 4:05 AM
1:44 AM166
Edgewood, MD
2:14 PM186
Baltimore, MD
2:43 AM
3:10 AM226
Washington, D.C. (Union Station)
1:45 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #75/RF&P) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #76/RF&P)
3:35 AM (Dp)226
Washingon, D.C. (Union Station)
1:05 AM (Ar)
4:58 AM280
Fredericksburg, VA
11:36 PM (Ar)
6:20 AM (Ar)340
Richmond, VA (Broad Street Station)
10:15 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #75/ACL) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #76/ACL)
6:35 AM (Dp)340
Richmond, VA (Broad Street Station)
10:00 PM (Ar)
9:15 AM (Ar)465
South Rocky Mount, NC
7:15 PM (Dp)
9:20 AM (Dp)465
South Rocky Mount, NC
7:10 PM (Ar)
9:40 AM480
Wilson, NC
11:15 AM554
Fayetteville, NC (Fort Bragg)
5:20 PM
12:57 PM (Ar)637
Florence, SC
3:40 PM (Dp)
1:05 PM (Dp)637
Florence, SC
3:32 PM (Ar)
2:55 PM732
North Charleston, SC (North Station)
1:27 PM
Yamassee, SC
12:13 PM
Ridgeland, SC
Hardeeville, SC
12:13 PM
5:17 PM (Ar)849
Savannah, GA
11:05 AM (Dp)
5:25 PM (Dp)849
Savannah, GA
10:57 AM (Ar)
6:32 PM (Ar)905
Jesup, GA
9:42 AM (Dp)
Jesup, GA
9:38 AM (Ar)
7:07 PM934
Nahunta, GA
9:07 AM
8:45 PM (Ar)1001
Jacksonville, FL
7:50 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #75/ACL/Tampa Sec.) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #76/ACL/Tampa Sec.)
10:25 PM (Dp)1001
Jacksonville, FL
7:00 AM (Ar)
10:50 PM1014
Orange Park, FL
6:24 AM
11:00 PM1021
Doctor's Inlet, FL
6:11 AM
11:15 PM1030
Green Cove Springs, FL
5:51 AM
11:33 PM1041
West Tocoi, FL
5:34 AM
11:41 PM1046
Bostwick, FL
5:24 AM
11:55 PM1055
Palatka, FL
5:10 AM
12:18 AM1070
Pomona, FL
4:42 AM
12:25 AM1074
Huntington, FL
4:34 AM
12:28 AM1076
Crescent City, FL
4:30 AM
12:38 AM1084
Seville, FL
4:18 AM
12:45 AM1090
Pierson, FL
4:09 AM
12:51 AM1094
Barberville, FL
3:59 AM
12:58 AM1100
De Leon Springs, FL
3:50 AM
1:02 AM1103
Glenwood, FL
3:45 AM
1:09 AM1107
De Land, FL
3:35 AM
1:22 AM1113
Orange City Junction, FL
3:24 AM
Lake Monroe, FL
1:50 AM (Ar)1125
Sanford, FL
3:00 AM (Dp)
2:00 AM (Dp)1125
Sanford, FL
2:50 AM (Ar)
2:15 AM1135
Longwood, FL
2:20 AM1138
Altamonte Springs, FL
Maitland, FL
2:25 AM
2:30 AM1143
Winter Park, FL
2:10 AM
2:55 AM1147
Orlando, FL
1:45 AM
3:22 AM1165
Kissimmee, FL
1:17 AM
3:40 AM1177
Loughman, FL
12:59 AM
Davenport, FL
3:53 AM1187
Haines City, FL
12:40 AM
4:15 AM1193
Lake Alfred, FL
12:15 AM
4:22 AM1198
Auburndale, FL
12:08 AM
4:45 AM (Ar)1208
Lakeland, FL
11:50 PM (Dp)
5:00 AM (Dp)1208
Lakeland, FL
11:40 PM (Ar)
5:25 AM1219
Plant City, FL
11:21 PM
5:37 AM1225
Dover, FL
Seffner, FL
6:15 AM (Ar)1240
Tampa, FL
10:45 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #375/ACL/Sarasota Sec.) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #376/ACL/Sarasota Sec.)
6:50 AM (Dp)1240
Tampa, FL
10:00 PM (Ar)
6:58 AM1244
Uceta, FL
9:43 PM
7:14 AM1252
Remlap, FL
9:26 PM
7:27 AM1262
Ruskin, FL
9:13 PM
7:47 AM1274
Gillett, FL
8:55 PM
8:00 AM1279
Palmetto, FL
8:43 PM
8:07 AM1280
Bradenton-Manatee, FL
8:35 PM
8:15 AM1285
Oneco, FL
8:27 PM
8:21 AM1288
Matoaka, FL
8:22 PM
8:30 AM (Ar)1293
Sarasota, FL (ET)
8:15 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #37/ACL/St. Petersburg Sec.) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #38/ACL/St. Petersburg Sec.)
10:00 PM (Dp)1001
Jacksonville, FL
7:05 AM (Ar)
Baldwin, FL
Sapp, FL
Ellerbee, FL
10:56 PM1046
Raiford, FL
5:49 AM
11:05 PM1053
Lake Butler, FL
5:40 AM
Munich, FL
Worthington Springs, FL
Santa Fe, FL
Haynesworth, FL
11:40 PM1072
Burnetts Lake, FL
5:05 AM
Hague, FL
Paradise, FL
12:07 AM1086
Gainesville, FL
4:30 AM
Rochelle, FL
Micanopy Junction, FL
Evinston, FL
Boardman, FL
12:56 AM1107
McIntosh, FL
3:39 AM
Orange Lake, FL
Proctor, FL
Reddick, FL
Lowell, FL
Martin, FL
Kendrick, FL
1:53 AM1127
Ocala, FL (Union Station)
2:50 AM
2:16 AM1141
Candler, FL
2:16 AM
2:23 AM1144
Ocklawaha, FL
2:09 AM
2:29 AM1146
East Lake, FL
2:03 AM
2:35 AM1149
Weirsdale, FL
1:58 AM
2:45 AM1153
Lady Lake, FL
1:48 AM
2:55 AM1158
Fruitland Park, FL
1:40 AM
3:07 AM1161
Leesburg, FL
1:30 AM
3:17 AM1167
Okahumpa, FL
1:17 AM
3:37 AM1176
Center Hill, FL
1:00 AM
3:47 AM1180
Webster, FL
12:51 AM
St. Catherine, FL
4:17 AM1191
Croom, FL
12:26 AM
4:35 AM (Ar)1200
Trilby, FL
12:10 AM (Dp)
4:40 AM (Dp)1200
Trilby, FL
12:05 AM (Ar)
5:01 AM1212
San Antonio, FL
11:41 PM
Pasco, FL
5:22 AM1224
Ehren, FL
11:18 PM
5:42 AM1234
Odessa, FL
10:58 PM
Keystone Park, FL
6:00 AM1245
Tarpon Springs, FL
10:36 PM
Crystal Beach, FL
6:15 AM1250
Palm Harbor, FL
10:23 PM
6:26 AM1255
Dunedin, FL
10:14 PM
6:33 AM1258
Clearwater, FL
10:06 PM
6:43 AM1259
Belleair, FL
9:56 PM
6:55 AM1263
Largo, FL
9:42 PM
Cross Bayou, FL
7:05 AM1269
Pinellas Park, FL
9:31 PM
Lellman, FL
7:25 AM (Ar)1263
St. Petersburg, FL (ET)
9:15 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #75/FEC) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #76/FEC)
9:30 PM (Dp)1001
Jacksonville, FL
7:15 AM (Ar)
10:20 PM1038
St. Augustine, FL
6:20 AM
10:59 PM1088
Bunnell, FL
5:32 AM
11:21 PM1105
Ormond, FL
11:39 PM1111
Daytona Beach, FL
4:56 AM
12:05 AM (Ar)1126
New Smyrna Beach, FL
4:30 AM (Dp)
12:15 AM (Dp)1126
New Smyrna Beach, FL
4:20 AM (Ar)
Titusville, FL
3:31 AM
1:20 AM1175
Cocoa-Rockledge, FL
3:01 AM
1:51 AM1195
Melbourne, FL
2:32 AM
Vero Beach, FL
1:47 AM
3:10 AM1243
Fort Pierce, FL
1:25 AM
Stuart, FL
12:47 AM
Hobe Sound, FL
12:26 AM
4:30 AM (Ar)1300
West Palm Beach, FL
11:55 PM (Dp)
4:40 AM (Dp)1300
West Palm Beach, FL
11:45 PM (Ar)
Lake Worth, FL
11:30 PM
Delray Beach, FL
11:13 PM
5:20 AM1326
Boca Raton, FL
11:01 PM
5:43 AM1342
Fort Lauderdale, FL
10:39 PM
5:58 AM1349
Hollywood, FL
10:27 PM
6:30 AM (Ar)1367
Miami, FL
10:00 PM (Dp)
7:15 AM (Dp)1367
Miami, FL
9:30 PM (Dp)
7:25 AM1372
Coconut Grove, FL
9:14 PM
7:30 AM1375
South Miami, FL
9:07 PM
7:45 AM1383
Perrine, FL
8:52 PM
7:54 AM1387
Goulds, FL
8:42 PM
7:59 AM1389
Princeton, FL
8:36 PM
8:04 AM1390
Naranja, FL
8:30 PM
8:10 AM1393
Modello, FL
8:24 PM
8:18 AM (Begin Key West Extension)1395
Homestead, FL
8:20 PM (End Key West Extension)
8:22 AM1397
Florida City, FL
8:10 PM
8:38 AM1409
Glades, FL
7:54 PM
8:49 AM (Leave Mainland)1416
Jewfish, FL
8:10 PM (Enter Mainland)
8:52 AM (Enter Florida Keys)1418
Key Largo, FL
7:42 PM (Leave Florida Keys)
9:02 AM1425
Rockharbor, FL
7:29 PM
9:12 AM1432
Tavernier, FL
7:19 PM
9:17 AM1435
Plantation, FL
7:14 PM
9:26 AM1441
Islamorada, FL (Caribbee Colony)
7:05 PM
9:47 AM1452
Craig, FL
6:44 PM
9:57 AM1458
Long Key Fishing Camp, FL
6:34 PM
10:22 AM1475
Marathon, FL (Sombrero Lodge)
6:12 PM
10:30 AM1479
Pigeon Key, FL
6:00 PM
10:54 AM1493
Big Pine, FL
5:38 PM
11:00 AM1498
Ramrod Key, FL
5:32 PM
11:10 AM1504
Pirates Cove Fishing Camp, FL
5:25 PM
11:15 AM1507
Perky, FL
5:20 PM
11:45 AM (Ar)1523
Key West, FL (ET)
5:00 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company)
12:20 PM (Dp)
Key West, FL
3:15 PM (Ar)
6:20 PM (Ar)
Havana, Cuba
9:00 AM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Pan American Airways) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Pan American Airways)
8:00 AM (Dp)
Miami, FL
5:00 PM (Ar)
10:15 AM (Ar)
Havana, Cuba
2:45 PM (Dp)
A postcard featuring the north end of FEC's Trumbo Island Terminal in Key West, Florida during the 1920s. Trains met ships here for passengers to continue on to Havana, Cuba.

1935 Labor Day Hurricane

The Special lost much of its glamorous allure when the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane destroyed the extension forcing the train to be cutback to Miami.

According to the book, "When the Railroad Leaves Town: American Communities In The Age Of Rail Line Abandonment (Eastern United States," by author Joseph P. Schwieterman, for a time after the hurricane FEC continued dispatching the Havana Special to Key West via car ferry.

However, air and ship service continued on for 25 additional years until Fidel Castro took over the Cuban government in 1960 forcing both to be discontinued. Diesel power replaced the Class P-5a 4-6-2 Pacifics in 1942 as the FEC purchased new EMD E6s and later E7s for passenger services.  

Timetable (1930)

On October 27, 1962, what remained of the Havana Special was renamed as the East Coast Special since the train no longer offered connections to Cuba.

The name survived for only a few months for on January 23, 1963 a nasty strike was carried out by FEC's operating unions.  It paralyzed the railroad and resulted in all passenger services being discontinued.  

A postcard of Florida East Coast's main terminal at Trumbo Island in Key West, Florida where trains met ships at the dock.

Final Years

These trains returned briefly when the FEC was required to reinstate trains between Jacksonville and North Miami on August 2 1965 but this lasted only until July 31, 1968 when service ceased forever.  It's interesting to wonder how this train would have fared had the extension survived. 

For instance, consider that the Seaboard Air Line's Silver Meteor, Atlantic Coast Line's Champion, and even the Pennsylvania Railroad's South Wind all saw relatively high patronage through the 1960s with their connections to warm and sunny climate of Miami.  Could the Extension have witnessed similarly strong ridership? 

Even so, vacationers would not have been able to sustain the route, financially.  If some other means of traffic (i.e., freight) had not been found (unlikely) the Extension probably would have been abandoned even if a major hurricane, such as the 1935 storm, had not severely damaged the line. Finally, for a history of the Key West Extension please click here.

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