Postcard photo of an Atlantic Coast Line passenger train at the Orlando, Florida depot in 1948. Click to enlarge.

(Curt Teich, Chicago, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped)



Not to be confused with Atlantic Shore Line Railway.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (reporting mark ACL) was a United States Class I railroad formed in 1900, though predecessor railroads had used the ACL brand since 1871. In 1967, it merged with long-time rival Seaboard Air Line Railroad to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. Much of the original ACL network has been part of CSX Transportation since 1986.

The Atlantic Coast Line served the Southeast, with a concentration of lines in Florida. Numerous named passenger trains were operated by the railroad for Florida-bound tourists, with the Atlantic Coast Line contributing significantly to Florida's economic development in the first half of the 20th century.

At the end of 1925, ACL operated 4,924 miles of road, not including its flock of subsidiaries; after some merging, mileage at the end of 1960 was 5,570 not including A&WP, CN&L, East Carolina, Georgia, Rockingham, and V&CS. In 1960, ACL reported 10,623 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 490 million passenger-miles.


1914 Atlantic Coast Line Railroad System map. Click to enlarge.

(The New Encyclopedic Atlas and Gazetteer of the World, New York: Collier, 1914. This media file is in the public domain in the United States.)


Atlantic Coast Line Railroad depot, Archer, Florida, ca. 1900.

(State Archives of Florida)



Early history

The earliest predecessor of the ACL was the Petersburg Railroad between Petersburg, Virginia and a point near Weldon, North Carolina, founded in 1830. A route between Richmond, Virginia and Petersburg was built by the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad, which was founded in 1836. In 1840 the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, at the time known as the Wilmington and Raleigh and renamed in 1855, completed a route between Weldon and Wilmington, North Carolina. From Wilmington, the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad began operations in 1853 to Florence, South Carolina, where the Northeastern Railroad operated to Charleston, South Carolina. In 1871, the W&W and the W&M (renamed the Wilmington, Columbia & Augusta) began using the Atlantic Coast Line name to advertise the two lines. An investor from Baltimore, William T. Walters, gained control of these separate railroads after the Civil War, and operated them as a network of independent companies. In 1897–98, most of the South Carolina lines in Walters' system were consolidated under the name of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of South Carolina. In 1898, as the companies moved towards combining themselves into a single system, the lines in Virginia were combined into the new Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of Virginia, and the lines in North Carolina underwent a similar process in 1899, becoming the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of North Carolina. In 1899 or 1900, due to a regulatory climate in Virginia that was better suited to the company than that in other states, the ACL of Virginia took control of the other lines and subsequently shortened its name to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company.


A 1914 map of the lines through Florida. Click to enlarge.

(This media file is in the public domain in the United States.


The ACL's Pinellas Special in Belleair, Florida, in 1920.

(Atlantic Coast Line Railroad publicity photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Forming the ACL by mergers

In 1898, Petersburg Railroad and the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad formally merged, and two years later the combined company took control of the ACL's routes south of Virginia and the Norfolk and Carolina Railroad, which operated from Norfolk, Virginia to Tarboro, North Carolina. These mergers created an ACL system reaching from southern Virginia to South Carolina and Georgia. Other small acquisitions took place in 1901, and in 1902 the ACL took over the Plant System, which operated numerous lines within Florida and Georgia. This same year the ACL took control of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad as well as the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway, though the two were never merged into the ACL and were operated independently. The ACL acquired the East Carolina Railway in 1935, running south from Tarboro to Hookerton, although the 12-mile extension to Hookerton was abandoned in 1933.

The ACL's last major acquisition was the Atlanta, Birmingham and Coast Railroad, which it purchased in 1927, though the AB&C was not merged into the ACL until 1945.


Atlantic Coast Line headquarters, Jacksonville, Florida. Click to enlarge. (Boston Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


1910 advertisement for ACL trains from New York to Florida. Click to enlarge. (Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Later history

By the early 1900s the railroad had largely reached its final configuration and began to focus on upgrading its physical plant. By the 1920s the railroad's main line from Richmond, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida had been double-tracked, which benefited the railroad during the 1920s when Florida boomed.

In 1928 the ACL completed a line between Perry, Florida and Drifton, near Monticello, Florida, the last link of the new "Perry Cutoff". This created a more direct route between Chicago and Florida's west coast and bypassing Jacksonville, one which passed through Macon, Albany, and Thomasville, the route followed by ACL's passenger train Southland from December 1928 to 1957 when it was rerouted to Jacksonville.

During the Great Depression ACL's freight traffic declined by around 60%, but the railroad survived the 1930s without declaring bankruptcy; its success in this regard has been attributed to its leadership and careful financial practices, as well as owning the Louisville and Nashville, which remained strong through the Depression.

During World War II ACL's passenger traffic increased 200% and freight traffic 150%. The railroad provided a submarine-proof alternative to coastal shipping, and it also served the fast-emerging military industry in the Southeast. In 1942, Champion McDowell Davis (nicknamed "Champ") became president of the ACL after starting with the railroad in the 1890s as a messenger boy. He immediately began an improvement program that finished in the mid-1950s, including the rebuilding of several hundred miles of track, the installation of modern signaling systems and improvements to freight yards. The railroad spent at least $268 million in upgrading its physical plant during this period.

In 1956 the railroad moved its headquarters, which had been sited at and adjacent to Wilmington, North Carolina's Union Station to Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville was selected from three candidate cities, the other two being Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Construction of the new office complex was finished in July 1960, with the move from Wilmington completed over the following weeks.



As early as October 1958 the ACL and competitor Seaboard Air Line Railroad had discussed the possibility of a merger, initiating extensive studies on the potential unified system. The results showed that the merger could save considerable money through savings incurred and reduced expenditures to the amount of $38 million annually. On August 18, 1960, the merger was approved by shareholders of both railroads. In 1963, a merger between the two companies was approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission, however, petitions for reconsideration were filed leading to a court decision to remand the approval of the merger on May 13, 1965, citing the Clayton Antitrust Act. Following another round of court decisions in 1966, the merger was allowed to proceed, and did so on July 1, 1967. The result was the creation of the Seaboard Coast Line.



The backbone of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was its main line, which ran nearly 900 miles from Richmond, Virginia to just south of Tampa, Florida. By 1952, the company operated over 5,000 miles of track including the main line and numerous secondary lines and branch lines. The network extended as far west as Birmingham, Alabama and as far south as Everglades City, Florida at its height.

Main Line (Atlantic Coast Line Railroad)

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad’s Main Line was the backbone of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's network in the southeastern United States. The main line ran from Richmond, Virginia to Port Tampa just southwest of Tampa, Florida, a distance of nearly 900 miles. Along its route it passed through Petersburg, Rocky Mount, Florence, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Orlando. With the exception of a short 61-mile segment in Greater Orlando (which is now state-owned), the entire line is still owned by the Atlantic Coast Line's successor, CSX Transportation, and is still in service as their A Line.


By the time the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL) was officially created, track that would make up its main line had already been built by the company's predecessors. The main line was built in the late 1800s by the following companies:

Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, Manchester, Virginia to Petersburg, Virginia
Petersburg Railroad, Petersburg to Weldon, North Carolina
Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, Weldon to Wilson, North Carolina
Fayetteville Cutoff, Wilson to Pee Dee, South Carolina
Wilmington and Manchester Railroad, Pee Dee to Florence, South Carolina
Northeastern Railroad, Florence to Charleston, South Carolina
Predecessors of the Plant System:
Ashley River Railroad, around Charleston
Charleston and Savannah Railroad, Charleston to Savannah, Georgia
Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, Savannah to Jesup, Georgia
Folkston Cutoff, Jesup to Folkston, Georgia
Waycross and Florida Railroad, Folkston to Georgia/Florida state line
East Florida Railway, state line to Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway, Jacksonville to Sanford, Florida
South Florida Railroad, Sanford to Port Tampa, Florida

The process to combine these individual railroads into a unified system began around 1898. By 1900, the system north of Charleston was officially merged into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company. In 1902, the Atlantic Coast Line acquired the Plant System, which expanded the network into Georgia and Florida and nearly doubled the size of the network.

Due to increasing traffic and the Florida land boom of the 1920s, the ACL began work to double track 661 miles of the main line from Richmond to Jacksonville in 1922. The double track was complete in 1925, two years ahead of schedule. Automatic block signals were installed at the same time. In later years, much of the main line would be restored to single track with centralized traffic control and passing sidings.

The line carried many of the Atlantic Coast Line's passenger and freight trains though the years. Many of the company's passenger trains on the main line were from the northeast to Florida, which included:

Champion (New York - Tampa/St. Petersburg, and New York - Miami)
Everglades (New York – Jacksonville)
Florida Special (New York – Miami/St. Petersburg)
Gulf Coast Special (New York – Tampa/Ft. Myers/St. Petersburg)
Havana Special (New York – Key West, via the Florida East Coast Railway prior to the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.)
Miamian (Washington – Miami)
Vacationer (New York – Miami)

In 1967, the Atlantic Coast Line merged with their long-time rival, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL). The SAL also had a main line running from Richmond, Virginia to Tampa, Florida that was roughly parallel to the ACL's main line. The two main lines crossed each other in Centralia, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Plant City. After the merger was complete, the company was named the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (SCL), who largely retained both main lines in the combined network. To differentiate the two main lines, the Seaboard Coast Line designated the ACL's main line as the A Line and the SAL's main line as the S Line. The letter A was added as a prefix to the mileposts on the A Line (A was also added to the beginning of the pre-existing letter prefixes on the ACL's branch lines).

In 1980, the Seaboard Coast Line's parent company merged with the Chessie System, creating the CSX Corporation. The CSX Corporation initially operated the Chessie and Seaboard Systems separately until 1986, when they were merged into CSX Transportation.

Current operations

The full line from Richmond to Port Tampa is still in service. In 2011, CSX sold a 61-mile segment from Deland, Florida to Poinciana, Florida in the Greater Orlando area to the Florida Department of Transportation, who now operates the SunRail commuter rail service on that segment. Other than that, CSX still owns and operates the rest of the line. Many CSX freight trains and Amtrak trains runs the line daily. From north to south, the A Line is designated by CSX as the North End Subdivision, South End Subdivision, Charleston Subdivision, Savannah Subdivision, Nahunta Subdivision, Jacksonville Terminal Subdivision, Sanford Subdivision, Carters Subdivision, Lakeland Subdivision, and the Tampa Terminal Subdivision.


Former Atlantic Coast Line Main Line near Moncks Corner, South Carolina. (Brian Stansberry, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

ACL herald.

The ACL Main Line

The ACL Main Line (red) in relation to the SAL Main Line (blue). 

(This work has been released into the public domain

by its author, SPUI, this applies worldwide.)

Main Line Overview

Other names: A Line
Status: Still operating under successor company
Owner: Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (1900-1967)
Seaboard Coast Line Railroad: (1967-1986)
CSX Transportation: (1986-present)
Termini: Richmond, Virginia / Port Tampa, Florida
Line length: 890.1 mi (1,432.5 km)
Track gauge: 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) standard gauge
Electrification No
Signaling: Centralized traffic control




Arch bridge over the James River at the north end of the main line near Richmond, as seen in 1985. (Bruce Fingerhood from Springfield, Oregon, US, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

ACL No. 501, an EMC E3, pulling the East Coast Champion in 1964. The locomotive now resides at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Click to enlarge.

(Photo by Roger Puta, railfan 44, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



During its early years, the ACL handled mostly seasonal agricultural products, but by World War II its freight traffic had become more diverse. During the 1950s, around 44% of all freight traffic consisted of manufactured and miscellaneous items, while bulk traffic like coal and phosphates also expanded during this time. During the 1950s, the ACL acquired some 13,000 new freight cars, to be used on high-speed trains offering reduced running times compared to earlier equipment. This allowed the railroad to remain competitive in the face of competition from the Interstate highway system.


The ACL's passenger traffic consisted almost entirely of Florida-bound traffic, largely from the Northeast, but also from the Midwest via trains that were operated by multiple railroads and handled by the ACL at their southern ends. In 1939, in response to the Seaboard's popular new streamliner, the Silver Meteor, the ACL launched its first streamlined train, the all-coach Champion. ACL invested heavily in its passenger fleet after World War II but passenger revenue fell from $28.5 million in 1946 to $14.1 million in 1959. Until its 1967 merger the railroad continued to maintain and improve its passenger service, even replacing old stations with new.


Major passenger trains

All of ACL's New York - Florida trains ran on the Pennsylvania Railroad north of Washington, D. C., then via the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad from Washington to Richmond. Tampa/St. Petersburg trains used ACL rails south of Richmond all the way to their destinations. Trains for Miami ran on the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Miami, but after passenger service on the FEC effectively ended with a long-lasting strike in 1963, ACL transferred its Miami-bound trains to Seaboard rails at Auburndale, Florida.

New York-Florida routes:

Champion (New York - Tampa/St. Petersburg, and New York - Miami)
Everglades (New York – Jacksonville)
Florida Special (New York – Miami/St. Petersburg) (winter only; a rival to Seaboard's Orange Blossom Special)
Gulf Coast Special (New York – Tampa/Ft. Myers/St. Petersburg)
Havana Special (New York – Key West, prior to the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.)
Miamian (Washington – Miami)
Vacationer (New York – Miami)

Midwest-Florida routes:

City of Miami (Chicago-Miami)
Dixie Flagler (Chicago-Miami)
Dixie Flyer (Chicago-Miami; shortened in final four years to Atlanta-Jacksonville)
Dixie Limited (Chicago-Jacksonville)
Flamingo (Cincinnati-Jacksonville)
Seminole (Chicago-Jacksonville)
South Wind (Chicago-St. Petersburg/Miami)
Southland (Cincinnati -- St. Petersburg/Ft. Myers/Miami; sole year-round passenger train to bypass Jacksonville and run through the western side of Florida)
Other routes:

Palmetto (New York – Savannah, S.C./Augusta, Ga./Wilmington, N.C.)
Tar Heel (New York and Norfolk -Wilmington)


In popular culture

In Preston Sturges' 1942 comedy The Palm Beach Story, main character Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) boards the Florida Special (ACL's premier, winter-only train) in New York City's Pennsylvania Station.


An Atlantic Coast Line Photo Gallery


Atlantic Coast Line number 467 in Tampa, August 1945. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida/Burgert Brothers, cropped)

Atlantic Coast Line No. 601, ca. 1901. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida)

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad company engine No. 500, power for the Champion passenger train. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida)


Atlantic Coast Line Railroad baggage cars at siding, De Land, Florida. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida)

Interior of an ACL passenger car at Jacksonville, FL on January 19, 1951. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida/Spottswood Studio.)


Atlantic Coast Line train at Jacksonville, Florida, led by E6 No. 503 in 1960. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida)

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad steam engine 2001 at Jacksonville Region, Florida. March 31, 1930. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida)


Atlantic Coast Line Railroad passenger cars at the depot, Fort Pierce, Florida, circa 1950. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida/Wolfe)


Atlantic Coast Line Railroad export terminal, Jacksonville, Florida, February 14, 1920. Click to enlarge. (State Archives of Florida)



Headquarters: Wilmington, North Carolina (1900–1960); Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Building, 500 Water Street, Jacksonville, Florida (1960–1967)
Reporting mark: ACL
Locale: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
Dates of operation: 1900–1967
Successor: Seaboard Coast Line Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 5,155 miles (8,296 km)


See Also:

Railroads A-Z