Atlantic Coast Line E6A  No. 521 with the West Coast Champion at Alexandria, Virginia in August 1964. Click to enlarge..

(Photo by Roger Puta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Champion drumhead.


The Champion was a streamlined passenger train operated by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway between New York City and Miami or St. Petersburg, Florida. It operated from 1939 until 1979, continuing under the Seaboard Coast Line and Amtrak. It was a direct competitor to the Seaboard Air Line Railway's Silver Meteor, the first New York-Florida streamliner.


Postcard depiction of Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's train "The Champion", which traveled between New York City and Miami. (C.R. Adamson, Miami/Teichnor, Boston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Postcard depiction of a Florida East Coast Railway streamliner, The Champion. Click to enlarge. (Florida East Coast Railway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Atlantic Coast Line

The Champion started as a daily service of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL) in 1939, competing with the Silver Meteor of the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) on the New York–Florida route. Initially just a New York-Miami service, the ACL added a section serving St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area in 1941 once enough streamlined equipment was available. The train was rebranded as the Tamiami Champion, with the St. Petersburg section called the Tamiami Champion (West Coast) (91 northbound/92 southbound), and the Miami section called the Tamiami Champion (East Coast) (1 northbound/2 southbound). In 1943 the names became East Coast Champion and West Coast Champion.

Southbound trains originated in New York's Pennsylvania Station, and traveled south over the Pennsylvania Railroad-owned Northeast Corridor through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. There, a radio-equipped lounge car was added to the train. Leaving Washington, trains used the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad to Richmond, Virginia, the north end of the ACL's main line. From Richmond, trains followed the Atlantic coast through Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia to Jacksonville, Florida. Here the train split, with the West Coast section moving south then west through DeLand and Sanford on ACL rails to St. Petersburg, while the East Coast section turned south south-east to run along Florida's east coast to Miami via the Florida East Coast Railway.

Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, black passengers on the Champion and other trains running through the southern United States were restricted to the "colored" coach, a combination baggage/coach behind the diesel. African Americans ate behind a curtain at two designated tables next to the kitchen of the dining car, but were barred from the observation-tavern-lounge on the rear of the train. Racial segregation on trains serving the South persisted even though the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), U. S. courts, and President Harry S. Truman's 1948 mandate (banning segregation in railroad dining cars) had ordered interstate carriers to desegregate.

By 1955 the West Coast Champion began hauling thru-cars for the City of Miami and South Wind streamliners to and from Chicago on its Jacksonville–Tampa/Sarasota leg via Orlando and its Jacksonville–St. Petersburg section via Gainesville, Ocala and Clearwater. During its long successful career the Champion network reached virtually every major city and resort in the Sunshine State except Florida Panhandle cities like Pensacola and Tallahassee, which were served by Seaboard's Jacksonville–New Orleans overnight Gulf Wind. By the early 1960s the West Coast Champion also had sections had different sections north of Florida: in Wilson, North Carolina a section branched southeast to Wilmington, North Carolina and in Florence, South Carolina a branch left bound for Augusta, Georgia. However, these through services were only offered southbound. By 1966 these Augusta service was offered northbound also. In 1967 these sections to Wilmington and Augusta shifted over the East Coast Champion. The Gulf coast branch lines carried West Coast Champion thru-cars to three different Florida branches, one to St. Petersburg, a second to Tampa, Bradenton and Sarasota, and a third to Fort Myers and Naples. By April 1967 the Augusta branch was switched over to the Everglades and Palmetto trains.

The East Coast Champion ran up and down the Florida East Coast Railway stopping at popular east coast resorts. In 1963 the ACL rerouted the East Coast Champion from the coastal FEC tracks to an interior ACL route through Sanford and Auburndale, a town adjacent to Winter Haven, and then on SAL tracks from Auburndale to West Palm Beach and then to Miami.

At the outset, the Champion was an all-coach streamliner pulled by a diesel electric locomotive. Pullman sleeping cars were added by 1941. One Champion A-unit resides at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina.


Seaboard Coast Line diesel-electric railcar No. 4900 (ex-SAL #2028) leads the Champion through Naples, Florida in March 1971, less than two months before it was retired. Click to enlarge. (Roger Puta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Atlantic Coast Line E6A 501 with the East Coast Champion at AF Tower, Alexandria, VA in August 1964. Built as an E3A in Nov. 1939, she was rebuilt to E6 specifications in mid-forties by EMD. She is now rests at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC in original ACL livery and runs (somewhat). Click to enlarge. (Roger Puta, railfan 44, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


SCL Motor Car 4900, Train 98, The Champion, at Naples, FL on March 14, 1971. Click to enlarge. (By Roger Puta via Marty Bernard from U.S.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Seaboard Coast Line

In 1967, the Atlantic Coast Line merged with the Seaboard Air Line to form the Seaboard Coast Line, making the Champion a sister train to its longtime rivals, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star. Additionally, a few months after the merger, on September 4 northbound, and September 5 southbound, the East and West trains were consolidated into one.  By December 1967, the name was simplified to the Champion, with the Miami and southeast Florida destinations eliminated, as the formerly SAL trains, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star had those responsibilities. Nonetheless, the Champion continued to have three different sections south of Jacksonville, simultaneously bound for different aforementioned Gulf Coast destinations from the ACL years. The Sarasota section was extended the next year to Venice. The Champion remained as a New York–St. Petersburg service, numbered No. 91 southbound and No. 92 northbound.


First trip of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's new streamlined "Champion". (First trip of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad company locomotive "Champion". 1939-12. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 1 Apr. 2023.<>)


Atlantic Coast Line train Champion entering Winter Park, circa 1940. Click to enlarge. (Atlantic Coast Line train Champion entering Winter Park. 1940 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 1 Apr. 2023.<>)


Sample consist - 1939
Train Original FEC consist
Baggage-dormitory-coach "New Smyrna" (14 seats)
Coach "Boca Raton" (60 seats)
Coach "Vero Beach" (52 seats)
Dining car "Fort Pierce" (48 seats)
Coach "Cocoa-Rockledge" (60 seats)
Coach "Pompano" (60 seats)
Tavern-lounge-observation "Bay Biscayne"

The Budd Company delivered three identical equipment sets for the Champion; the ACL owned two and the FEC the third (the FEC received an additional matching set which became the Henry M. Flagler). Each equipment set consisted of a baggage-dormitory-coach, four coaches, a dining car, and a tavern-lounge-observation car. In 1940–1941 Budd delivered additional equipment: three baggage-dorm-coaches, eight coaches, three dining cars, and three observation cars.  The new equipment permitted the operation of an additional section between New York and St. Petersburg.


A Florida East Coast Railway locomotive pulling the East Coast Champion.

(FEC Public Relations Dept., Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)



Throughout its 40 years of service (1939–79) the Champion was always a big money maker and remained a fast, reliable, full service operation until Amtrak took over in 1971. ACL, SAL and SCL had maintained exceptionally high standards on its popular Florida streamliners while other railroads gave up on passenger service. According to former ACL/SCL/Amtrak train attendant James Longmire (now retired in Jacksonville, Florida), "The Champ was always packed and we didn't stop serving dinner until everyone got fed... no matter how long it took. We called the Champ "Big Bertha" because tips were so good we didn't have to cash our paychecks."


Postcard depiction of the Atlantic Coast Line's East and West Coast Champions which served the east and west coast of Florida.

(Atlantic Coast Line, Public domain, via Wkimedia Commons)



Distance - City

0 / 0  - New York
10 mi / 16 km - Newark Penn
24 mi / 39 km - Metropark
58 mi / 93 km - Trenton
86 mi / 138 km - North Philadelphia
91 mi / 146 km - Philadelphia
118 mi / 190 km - Wilmington
187 mi / 301 km - Baltimore
227 mi / 365 km - Washington, D.C.
235 mi / 378 km - Alexandria
262 mi / 422 km - Quantico
281 mi / 452 km - Fredericksburg
341 mi / 549 km - Richmond
368 mi / 592 km - Petersburg
466 mi / 750 km - Rocky Mount
482 mi / 776 km - Wilson
556 mi / 895 km - Fayetteville
639 mi / 1028 km - Florence
734 mi / 1181 km - Charleston
787 mi / 1267 km - Yemassee
836 mi / 1345 km - Savannah
972 mi / 1564 km - Jacksonville
1078 mi / 1735 km - DeLand
1095 mi / 1762 km - Sanford
1111 mi / 1788 km - Winter Park
1117 mi / 1798 km - Orlando
Poinciana 1974–1975
1178 mi / 1896 km - Lakeland
1208 mi / 1944 km - Tampa
1238 mi / 1992 km - Clearwater
1251 mi / 2013 km - St. Petersburg


ACL Tamiami Champion Timetable from 1941. Click to enlarge.

(ACL, Public domain, W. Lenheim Collection)



Rennert railroad accident

The Rennert railroad accident occurred in Rennert, North Carolina on 16 December 1943. Sadly, 74 people were killed on the Atlantic Coast Line when the northbound Tamiami Champion struck the derailed rear three cars of its southbound counterpart. It remains the deadliest train wreck ever in North Carolina.

The southbound train comprised 18 cars hauled by EMC E6 diesel-electric units 515-753-514. It departed Fayetteville 20.5 miles north of Rennert at 12:25 am and was running over an hour late at a speed of 85 mph when the rear three cars derailed and became separated from the rest of the train.

Although they remained upright, the rear two cars - a dining car and a Pullman sleeping car - fouled the northbound track. The enginemen became aware of a problem when the emergency brakes were automatically applied and the front part of the train came to a halt some nearly half a mile beyond the derailed cars, at around 12:50 am. The brakeman (traveling in the derailed rearmost car) evacuated the passengers from these cars and then showed a light to inform the men working the front of the train that it had parted.

A passenger asked whether he would protect the northbound track but the flagman said that the crew in the front of the train would do so; the brakeman then proceeded north to provide flag protection.

Meanwhile, the enginemen, investigating the cause of the brake application found that the third car had separated from the second. They were still unaware of the derailment further back. The conductor (in the 13th car) saw the light but assumed it had been dropped from the rearmost car. The engineer said that soon after the train stopped he instructed the fireman to provide flag protection on the northbound track; whilst he attempted to repair the broken coupling.

The fireman proceeded southwards; when he saw the approaching headlight of the oncoming northbound train he attempted to light a fusee but slipped and fell on the icy ballast. He waved stop signals but did not appear to be seen. The northbound train was composed of 16 cars hauled by EMC E6 diesel electric units 506–503, and EMC E3A unit 500 and was travelling at 80 mph when it approached the stationary southbound train.

The engineer did not see a warning signal until he had passed the front of it; then he saw stop signals (being given by a passenger) 1000 feet ahead at the same time as he saw the derailed cars. Despite applying the emergency brakes a collision was inevitable.

As many as 74 passengers were killed (some sources say 72); there was only one fatality on the halted southbound train. Most of the deaths were servicemen on the northbound train, traveling home for the holidays. According to the official report 'the third car stopped on top of the second car', with most fatalities occurring in these two cars.

Although the initial derailment was caused by a rail breaking beneath the train, the subsequent collision could have been prevented if the crew had obeyed operating rules that state that a thorough inspection of the train be made in the 40 minutes after the initial derailment. Adequate train protection involving 'torpedoes' would then have prevented the disastrous collision.


Postcard of the northbound Amtrak Champion next to Lake Alfred in Lake Alfred, Florida. Click to enlarge.

(Richard J. Allen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



When Amtrak assumed control of most of the passenger rail service in the United States in 1971, the Champion was retained as a New York–St. Petersburg service (Nos. 85/87) operating over the same line it had for the past thirty-two years. On several occasions throughout the 1970s Amtrak would combine the Champion with its old rival the Silver Meteor. The first of these instances came in the summer of 1972: the train split in Savannah, Georgia, with the Champion section continuing to St. Petersburg and the renamed Meteor section passing west of Jacksonville via Thalmann, Georgia, and Callahan, Florida, on former Seaboard tracks to Miami. These combinations occurred again in 1975, 1976, and 1977, but with two changes: the split occurred at Jacksonville, and the Meteor again became the Silver Meteor. In 1978, the United States Department of Transportation recommended the consolidation of New York - Florida services, leading to the permanent consolidation of the Champion into the Silver Meteor in October 1979, serving as the Silver Meteor's Tampa section. Although there were indications that the Champion name would be preserved, it was dropped altogether with the October 1, 1979 timetable. The Silver Meteor continued to operate the Tampa section until 1994, when it was discontinued. The western terminus of the Tampa section, however, was cut back to Tampa from St. Petersburg in February 1984.


ACL No. 501, an EMC E3, at the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

(Photo by Cliff, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Service type: Inter-city rail
Status: discontinued
Locale: Northeastern United States/Southeastern United States
First service: December 1, 1939
Last service: October 1, 1979
Successor: Silver Meteor
Former operators: Atlantic Coast Line (1939–1967); Seaboard Coast Line (1967–1971); Amtrak (1971–1979)
Route Termini: New York City / West Coast section: St. Petersburg, East Coast section: Miami
Distance traveled: 1,046 miles (1,683 km)
Service frequency: Daily
Train numbers: East Coast Champion: 1 (southbound), 2 (northbound); West Coast Champion: 91 (southbound), 92 (northbound);
Amtrak: 85 (southbound), 86 (northbound)
On-board services
Seating arrangements: Reserved coach
Sleeping arrangements: Roomettes and double bedrooms
Catering facilities: Dining cars
Observation facilities: Tavern-lounge cars


Atlantic Coast Line Railroad company engine No. 500, power for the Champion passenger train. Click to enlarge.

(State Archives of Florida)