By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; January 11, 2021
The time span between the creation of Seaboard Coast Line Railroad and the implementation of Amtrak was relatively short: SCL was created July 1, 1967 by the merger of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, two fierce southeast competitors for passenger service between New York Penn Station and both coasts of Florida. Amtrak Day was May 1, 1971, just short of four years later.
Seaboard Coast Line operated a combined fleet of streamliners, from the Silver Meteor and Silver Star to the Champion and the seasonal Florida Special. All would become Amtrak trains. In addition, SCL operated the Gulf Wind (Jacksonville – New Orleans in conjunction with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad) and a fleet of secondary trains, all with dining car service. The disappearance of the Gulf Wind on Amtrak Day would create a void that would not be filled until the extension of the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Florida in 1993, and then the route would again be put on hiatus by Amtrak in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. The old Gulf Wind portion of the Sunset’s route has, to this day, never been “officially” cancelled by Amtrak; it has merely be “suspended” for over 15 years.
SCL management was hesitant at first to join Amtrak because their passenger trains were at least breaking even financially (even after the Johnson administration pulled the mail and express contracts), but reality took the day: The well-maintained fleet of passenger cars and locomotives were approaching the useful end of their service lives, and it would have been a major capital expenditure for new passenger equipment. The best overall answer financially for the company was to join Amtrak.
In those few short years before Amtrak, Seaboard Coast Line continued to promote Florida passenger trains, which also meant promoting food service. Here is the contents of a leaflet for passengers promoting dinner in the diner, most likely aimed at coach passengers. Other than for a children’s meal, no prices are provided. The leaflet was undated, but had to have been created for use sometime between July 1, 1967 and April 30, 1971:
You are cordially invited … to visit the Dining Car where a wide selection of good foods are available at reasonable prices, some of which are listed below. For those who do not wish full meals, A La Carte items are carried.
Also, for your comfort and enjoyment, there is a tavern car on this train, serving your favorite beverages.
Soup or Juice
Baked Filet of Trout, Spanish Sauce
Roast Stuffed Turkey, Giblet Gravy
Braised Beef Tips, a la Deutsch
Grilled Ham Steak, Pineapple Ring
Two Vegetables, Salad,
Bread or Rolls,
Dessert and Beverage
Southern Fried Chicken
French Fried Potatoes
Mixed Green Salad
Rolls – Beverage
For Children: Under 12 years of age, reduced portion Hamburger Steak, Whipped Potatoes, Green Peas, Bread and Butter, Milk. $1.35
An interesting note is the leaflet told passengers they were not required to purchase a full meal; anything on the a la carte menu was available for eating in the dining car.
Note that in a single leaflet, Seaboard Coast Line managers promoted both the dining car and the tavern car. The Meteor, Star, Champion and Florida Special all carried Pullman lounges for sleeping car passengers as well as the tavern cars for coach passengers. Even after 1969 and the end of the Pullman Company, SCL continued to operate a traditional “Pullman” sleeping car service; many of the former Pullman employees simply moved over to SCL and everything kept going mostly as before. For passengers, the only noticeable changes would be the disappearance of the familiar Pullman logos from bars of soap, towels and bed linens, replaced with SCL logos.