Through The Heart of the South

Seaboard Air Line Railroad


Unofficial Home Page

Last updated March 18, 2008

This is a very personal look the the Seaboard Railroad, like the Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast railroads, the Seaboard was a part of my life. Their long passenger trains thundering into Hollywood, Florida bound for Miami, New York or Chicago, 16 to 20 cars long, were very impressive. They were my gateway to the world. I would often come to the Seaboard station in Hollywood, the old 1927 Spanish-style station with an ice-cold airconditioned waiting room which always had an air of church-like quiet, save the chatter of the telegraph. On occaision, I would ask to look at the latest Official Guide, and reverently page through that Bible of railroading, savoring the romance of other railroads and places. The Pennsylvania Railroad's huge number of pages and services, the princely New York Central, the exotic Santa Fe and Union Pacific, planning fantasy journeys, all the while waiting to watch for one of Seaboard's streamliners and wishing I could go!

As a kid, my grandfather would take me trackside (usually to the Florida East Coast station) to watch the limiteds come in. In the distance, the shimmering headlight would appear (with the mars lamp describing a figure eight sweeping the tracks ahead) Usually three 2500 hp EMD E units would come barreling into the station, air horns blaring, me, nearly jumping out of my skin in fright, the thundering engines, bells ringing, the smell of diesel and hot oil, the long silver trains rolling, rolling, with sparks flying from their brake shoes, never seeming to stop, but always did.

Seaboard Coast Line's northbound Silver Star at Hollywood, FL in April, 1968.
My parents standing in the foreground about to board the ex-Atlantic Coast Line's
10 Roomette 6 Double Bedroom sleeping car Darlington County bound for New York

The passengers. lined up by numbers beforehand, loads of baggage, the white-coated porters opening the doors, placing the step-boxes on the platform, standing by their cars with some measure of pride, helping the passengers up or down, loading the bags, the conductors impatiently glancing at pocket watches. In no time, the conductors hands went up, shouting "Booaaaarrrrd!" and the engines up ahead would give two blasts on their horns while the mighty EMD 567's roared and gunned the electric motors to life, bells ringing, the ponderous caravan slowly got under way, luxury stainless steel coaches and Pullman sleepers, two dinning cars, tavern-lounge cars and often, the formal tuscan red sleepers of the Pennsylvania Railroad to add variety, gradually accelerating, rail joints rising and falling as each car passed, rolling down the track, horns blowing for the next crossing, leaving only the smells of delicious cooking from the diners, hot oil, hot brake shoes, diesel fumes and the creosoate of the cross-ties to mark her passing.

The Seaboard Air Line Railroad became one of the most progressive railroads in the country just before and during World War II. While the name 'Air Line' referred to the many stretches of tangent or straight track in parts of the Carolinas and in Florida, including the longest straight track in the United States between Wilmington and Hamlet, North Carolina, more than half of it's Richmond, Virginia to Miami main line ran through the rough piedmont hills of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. It was hilly and full of curves that restricted speed. The line was single-track with passing sidings. Arch-rival Atlantic Coast Line was blessed with a level, fast double-track main line between Richmond Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida.

The Seaboard main ran from Richmond Va. thru Raleigh, NC where the branch from Portsmouth, VA joined (at Norlina), to Hamlet, NC - branching to Wilmington and Charlotte, NC. A line went west to Atlanta, GA and Birmingham, AL. The main line continued south thru Columbia, SC, to Savannah, GA, Jacksonville, FL, and the obscure town of Wildwood, FL where the line to Tampa, St. Petersburg FL and the racetrack to West Palm Beach and Miami split.

North of Richmond, VA, the Richmond, Fredricksburg & Potomac handled both Seaboard's and Atlantic Coast Line's trains to Alexandria, VA and into Washington, DC. At Washington's Union Station, engines were changed from Diesel to the Pennsy's electric engines, the powerful GG1 - which could effortlessly handle 20 cars at 90 MPH.

Northbound Silver Star crossing the Susquehanna River on the
Penn Central (former Pennsylvania R.R.) behind a mighty
GG1 electric engine at 90 MPH, July, 1968

Seaboard, facing stiff competition from the Atlantic Coast Line's and Florida East Coast's level double-track was the underdog, and was forced to innovate. Seaboard was one of the first southern roads to introduce air conditioning in 1936, and diesel power on the crack Orange Blossom Special along with the semi-streamlined, steel Osgood-Bradley reclining seat coaches in 1938. Before and during World War II, the Seaboard began installing Centralized Traffic Control or CTC to allow one man at a console to control all the switches (turnouts) and passing sidings from one location and see where all the trains are showing as lights on a map of the system. This maximzed track capacity and allowed them to better utilize their physical plant and compete with the Atlantic Coast Line.

Page Two - Passenger Trains: Silver Meteor - Click Here
Page Three - Other Passenger Trains - Click Here



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