U.S.: The Winter season rivals to bring cold Northern passengers to Florida; Amtrak still follows the same route and Brightline restores service on part of the original east coast route

Circa 1930s promotional post card for Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s winter season Orange Blossom Special. Seaboard for decades always graphically featured oranges in its promotional materials. Wikimedia Commons image.

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; January 9, 2024

It’s January, well into the Winter snowbird season when Northerners flee the inconvenience of cold, snow and sleet for the warm, inviting latitudes of Florida and its environs.

Beginning in 1925, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad – which had only existed as a fully consolidated railroad since 1900 – began operations of the winter season Orange Blossom Special from a still-new New York Pennsylvania Station to Florida. The Florida Land Boom was in full swing, and rich northerners – children of the previous Gilded Age generation – wanted to enjoy fresh-squeezed-that-morning orange juice with their breakfast while overlooking the refreshing, scenic beaches of Florida.

Arch rival Atlantic Coast Line Railroad would wait until 1938 to inaugurate its Florida Special from New York Pennsylvania Station to Miami via the Florida East Coast Railway south of Jacksonville.

The great winter rivalry for bragging rights, prestige and extra-fare revenue from the denizens of Manhattan and the Philadelphia Main Line families began in earnest in 1938.

Modern Florida exists because of railroad barons Henry M. Flagler and Henry B. Plant. Flagler has numerous streets and avenues in Florida named for him, in addition to an entire county his railroad passes through between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. Plant has a city named after him near Tampa in Hillsborough County as well as various schools.

An 1893 promotional map, including land grants, for what would later become the Florida East Coast Railway. Wikimedia Commons image.

Both railroads had been luring passengers for Florida winter fun and sun since the Gilded Age. This continued up until the advent of the Jet Age when jets competed with passenger trains, but trains still had a loyal following.

In the 1950s, Fort Lauderdale became a hot college student spring break destination, duly enshrined in mindless movies, as well as Daytona Beach. Daytona Beach International Speedway is now a major attraction as well as Bike Week and Biketoberfest for motorcyclists in Daytona and Ormond Beach. Spectators watching racing on the Daytona/Ormond Beaches goes back to the days when they arrived on Henry Flagler’s trains.

Today, the Amtrak Florida trains still are some of the most popular in the Amtrak national system. But, now, Florida is a year-round vacation destination thanks to air conditioning, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios and many other attractions added during the last half of the 20th Century. The days of Florida’s only attractions being the beaches are over. The beaches are still pretty wonderful, but they compete with many other interests.

Florida East Coast Railway and Florida East Coast Steamship Company 1898 advertisement about the virtues of Florida. Wikimedia Commons image.
1902 Seaboard magazine ad for Florida train service, 23 years before the Orange Blossom Special was created. In 1902 Seaboard was still focused on the center of the Florida’s peninsula with a southern terminus in Tampa. The Seaboard Florida Limited operated from 1901 to 1930 and then was renamed the Palmland. The Palmland lasted until Amtrak Day, but was a secondary train after the introduction of the Silver Meteor and Silver Star. Wikimedia Commons image.
1908 magazine ad for the Seaboard Florida Limited. Wikimedia Commons image.
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad 1910 advertisement for travel to Florida and nearby Cuba. Note this ad is for service before the completion of New York Pennsylvania Station later in 1910 and service for New York City begins at the Pennsylvania Ferry on West 23rd Street to reach trains in New Jersey. Wikimedia Commons image.
Florida East Cost Railway 1913 advertisement for Florida winter sunshine. This was a year after the FEC’s Overseas Railway was completed and a year before the Panama Canal would be completed. Wikimedia Commons image.
Henry M. Flagler. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Starting towards the end of the 19th Century, railroads on the east coast were consolidating short lines into long lines. Henry Flagler was aggressively rebuilding St. Augustine, Florida from a sleepy mosquito-infested outpost of civilization into a winter rendezvous for the ultra wealthy of the Gilded Age and less-well-to-do who were only wealthy.

Julia Tuttle. Wikimedia Commons photo.

After Flagler finished with St. Augustine with his spectacular gilded hotels, he pushed his later-to-be-named Florida East Coast Railway south into other tiny hamlets, creating modern versions of such soon-to-be famous places as Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Titusville, Melbourne, Fort Pierce, Stuart and West Palm Beach, all becoming winter havens for the rich riding his new railroad. After he settled on building the famed Royal Poinciana and The Breakers hotels in Palm Beach as well as his own opulent home across the street from The Breakers, an enterprising lady by the name of Julia Tuttle along with fellow land-owner William Brickell convinced Flagler to buy land in her little settlement of Miami. Their argument was convincing and Flagler sets his sights on Miami and pushed his railroad further south, also creating Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. Eventually he his railroad would go all the way to Key West.

Henry Flagler’s first major hotel, the Hotel Ponce de Leon in downtown St. Augustine, built in 1888. The Ponce opened every winter season; the end of the season in 1967 saw the permanent closure of the hotel. During World War II the Ponce joined the war effort and instead of guests it hosted a Coast Guard training center. Today, the hotel is the main building of Flagler College, a growing, private liberal arts institution founded in 1968, thanks to his heirs. Because much of the hotel’s original guest room furniture was still in place when the college opened, many of the students had dorm rooms that had been furnished as luxury hotel rooms. As Henry Flagler in his day dominated St. Augustine, now Flagler College as his legacy is the dominate force in St. Augustine in addition to tourism. Through grants, gifts and endowments the hotel building has been beautifully restored and updated for college use. What were Winter season hotel rooms for Gilded Age guests are now updated dormitory rooms for college students. Many of the original stained glass windows, designed by Louis Tiffany are still a part of the building. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The main lobby of Flagler College was also the hotel’s main lobby, accessed from both King Street and the carriage Port Cochere. Since Flagler College is in the heart of downtown St. Augustine’s tourist district many visitors come to wonder at the Gilded Age spender to behold on any given day. Wikimedia Commons photo.
For Flagler College this may be a dining hall, but for the Hotel Ponce de Leon this was the main dining room, offering fine dining at every meal regally served by an army of waiters and attendants after preparation by renowned chefs. When the college first opened the students dined at the same tables and chairs used by the hotel. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The hotel’s Grand Parlor is now the Flagler Room for the college, hosting events and gatherings. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Henry Flagler’s Palm Beach Royal Poinciana Hotel opened in 1894. It was a huge wooden structure which closed in 1924 and was demolished soon after. Wikimedia Commons image.
A contemporary view of Henry Flagler’s The Breakers in Palm Beach. Originally the Palm Beach Inn in 1896, later renamed The Breakers in 1901, the current building shown above was built in 1926 to replace a fire-damaged building. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s residence in Palm Beach, which sits across the road from The Breakers. Whitehall is now a museum and shows the home as it was in Henry Flagler’s time. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The drawing room at Whitehall. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Henry Flagler’s private railroad car is on display in an annex to Whitehall. Compared to the standard size of private railroad cars built after the use of all-steel cars became popular, Flagler’s car seems small. Visitors are allowed to walk through the car. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The main entrance on King Street of the former Hotel Ponce de Leon and now Flagler College boasts a statue honoring the college’s namesake. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Henry B. Plant. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Rival Henry B. Plant was busy on the west coast of Florida doing much the same with his Plant System railroad, building his magnificent hotel in Tampa and going down Florida’s west coast with real estate and resort development. The Plant System became the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the ACL and rival SAL both built track along the west coast, also making upcoming iconic Florida west coast locations such as Venice, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples winter playgrounds for the rich and famous.

With the inauguration of the Orange Blossom Special, the era of modern, all-Pullman sleeping car winter season New York to Miami trains, from steam to diesel began in earnest. The Orange Blossom Special and the Florida Special were fierce express train/limited stops rivals with competing dining cars.

Henry B. Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel, circa 1900. The hotel operated from 1891 to 1930 and closed due to the depression. From Wikipedia: “Upon the outbreak of the Spanish–American War [1898], Plant convinced the United States military to use his hotel as a base of operations. Generals and high-ranking officers stayed in the hotel to plan invasion strategies, while enlisted men encamped on the hotel’s acreage. Colonel Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were also stationed at the hotel during this time. Roosevelt retained a suite and during the day led his men in battle exercises on the grounds. Other notable visitors of the Tampa Bay Hotel included Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane, the Queen of the United Kingdom, the Prince of Wales, Winston Churchill, and Ignacy Paderewski. Babe Ruth was also a guest of the hotel during its latter days and signed his first baseball contract in the Grand Dining Room. In 1919, Ruth hit his longest home run during a spring training game at Plant Field, adjacent to the hotel.” Wikimedia Commons image.
After the hotel closed in 1930, three years later it began a second life hosting higher education, eventually leading to today’s University of Tampa. The original hotel building is noted for it’s famous Moorish design featuring the silver colored Minarets. It is currently the home of the University of Tampa, and the H.B. Plant Museum. The museum provides an enjoyable couple of hours, featuring original Gilded Age hotel furnishings, history of the Tampa area and an excellent museum store offering a wide variety of souvenirs and a broad selection of books. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The winter season rivalry of the two railroad would last until 1953.The final run and end of the SAL’s Orange Blossom Special took place on April 13, 1953. The ACL’s Florida Special lived on into the early years of Amtrak in the 1970s.

Seaboard Air Line’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star by 1953 had established themselves as new, post-war streamliner year-around favorites from New York Pennsylvania Station to Miami and Seaboard management decided the Orange Blossom Special had outlived its usefulness. The Orange Blossom Special was never streamlined; it’s entire consist was heavyweight equipment from the Pullman Company pool, painted annually in specially chosen colors for the train.

Atlantic Coast Line 1954 newspaper ad. Internet image.
The Cadillac Hotel & Beach Club on Miami Beach in a 1955 photograph. The hotel was built in 1940 and has been in continuous use as a hotel since then with the exception of World War II years when it was leased by the United States military. It is currently an Autograph Collection by Marriott branded hotel. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad thought itself – and, told the world – it was the Standard Railroad of the South. It’s favorite color was purple, adorning it’s diesel locomotives in purple paint and the band along the streamlined passenger cars’ name boards in purple. Timetables were printed in purple ink – lots of it. Based in Wilmington, North Carolina until the headquarters move to Jacksonville, Florida in 1960, the Coast Line, which proclaimed “Thanks for Using Coast Line” on the exterior of its boxcars, was never known for or regarded for splashy corporate management.

Seaboard’s 1954 New York City newspaper ad for travel to Florida. Note the dining car prices in to body copy of the ad. Internet image.
The grand Roney Plaza Hotel on Miami Beach in 1950. The hotel dated back to the 1920s and the creation of Miami Beach as a “modern” beach vacation destination. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Seaboard Air Line Railroad styled itself The Route of Courteous Service and was the scrappy half of the rivalry. The Seaboard was seen as the underdog to the ACL, but they were in fact fairly evenly matched. Seaboard’s original diesels were painted in a stylish citrus theme of yellow, green and orange, later to change to a very light green with red highlights. The Seaboard logo on the front of every locomotive proclaimed “Through the Heart of the South,” and they took that seriously, serving the state capital of every state that was part of the railroad’s network. Seaboard’s timetables were bright red and featured stylized renderings of its streamliner passenger trains.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad’s Winter season Florida Special in 1963. Internet photo.
This circa 1960s photo of ACL’s Florida Special demonstrates what it took for the Pullman Company to assemble enough sleeping cars for a Winter season-only train. Railroads operating in colder climates had excess capacity in their off-months and the equipment was assigned to the Florida Special. It may have looked like Pennsylvania Railroad, Illinois Central and cars from other railroads on the outside, but on the inside it was all Pullman Company standard accommodations and services along with necessary dining and lounge cars. Internet photo.
Great Northern Railway cars normally found in the warm months on the Empire Builder and Western Star were put to work on the Winter season Florida Special for the Atlantic Coast Line. Internet photo.
Circa 1960s Florida Special at Jacksonville Union Terminal. Note there are TWO dome cars on this Florida Special consist. The cars are on the rear and sporting the Florida Special drumhead because they were added to the train south of Washington Union Station. At the time the Florida Special operated, the tunnel from Washington Union Station’s run-through tracks connecting to the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad for the trip to Richmond and Atlantic Coast Line home rails was not high enough to accommodate a dome car. As a result, the domes were added in Richmond. The tunnel at Washington Union Station was finally enlarged in the 1990s and now domes and Superliner train cars can pass through it. Internet photo.
The Seaboard Coast Line years from 1967 to 1971 brought more colorful equipment to the Florida Special shown here at Wildwood, Florida. SCL bought excess equipment from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and instead of fully repainting the exteriors immediately simply applied SCL logo stickers and changed the name letter boards at the tops of the cars until there was time to shop the equipment for full exterior repainting. Internet photo.
A crowded Atlantic Coast Line dining car serving a full dinner menu in 1950. Internet photo.
Atlantic Coast Line dining car for breakfast servise, 1952. Internet photo.
Two young Atlantic Coast Line passengers in 1959 perhaps seem less than thrilled at hamburgers placed in front of them. Maybe they were wishing for peanut butter and jelly or mac-and-cheese? Internet photo.
Atlantic Coast Line dining cars in the 1960s offered more than the standard “tables for four” seating found in many other dining cars, including those of rival Seaboard Air Line Railroad. Internet photo.
Atlantic Coast Line’s Florida Special offered games and more under the auspices of onboard hostesses. Internet photo.
BINGO! on the Florida Special in the 1960s, the train nicknamed by the ACL The Champagne Train. Odds are all of the “passengers” are Coast Line employees posing for a professional photographer. Usually in staged photos when all of the window shades are down that is a sure sign of planned photography. Note the sign on the door: “Air Conditioned Car. Keep door closed” plus the over-the-air black and white television in the upper right corner of the photo. Internet photo.
Atlantic Coast Line’s Orlando passenger train station. When this station was built in 1926, Orlando wasn’t much more than a county seat of government and oversized farm town. The station would not serve the East Coast Champion and Florida Special until after the 1963 Florida East Coast Railway strike which moved all ACL trains off the FEC and onto the Seaboard to reach Miami. The ACL trains south of Jacksonville would use the same former ACL tracks used today by Amtrak’s Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Auto Train into Central Florida. The ACL trains would continue southwest from Orlando to Auburndale where they would pick up Seaboard tracks into West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Orlando, along with Kissimmee just a few miles down the track are now the two primary Amtrak stations for passengers detraining to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and other Central Florida attractions. This station also serves as a SunRail commuter train station. Wikimedia Commons photo.
1967 publicity photo for the upcoming Winter season Florida Special, including the obligatory Florida accoutrement of a fishing boat. Internet photo.

The Florida Special operated from 1938 by the Coast Line, then the combined Seaboard Coast Line after the July 1, 1967 merger and then handed off to Amtrak in 1971. It began as a heavyweight train and was converted to a streamliner after World War II. It did benefit from an imaginative advertising campaign, and was dubbed “The Champagne Train” for its dining and lounge cars. The Florida Special also featured onboard fashion shows, highlighting bathing suits found on Miami Beach for the balmy Florida weather. The Florida Special took the World War II years off so the equipment could be better utilized for troop and critical personnel movements.

Orange Blossom Special newspaper advertisement, most likely post-war, 1946 based on train names used in body copy. Internet image.

The Orange Blossom Special operated from 1925 to 1953, also with a World War II hiatus. It only operated as a heavyweight train, and began as a way to bring northerners to Florida during the Florida Land Boom. In 1930, five years after the train’s inauguration, the Seaboard slipped into bankruptcy, and would continue until exiting nearly 15 years later at the end of World War II. The Orange Blossom Special was the flagship of the Seaboard during the winter season, and, even in bankruptcy maintained its luxury and status. By 1953 the streamliner Silver Meteor had enough new equipment to handle the extra winter season snowbird business and the Orange Blossom Special faded into history in favor of the Meteor and Silver Star. It did become famous beyond its trek for a bluegrass music song written in 1938 titled Orange Blossom Special which became known as the fiddle player’s national anthem. Johnny Cash recorded the song and named his 1965 album Orange Blossom Special.

Seaboard’s Orange Blossom Special arrives on newly completed Seaboard track in Miami in 1927. The extension to Miami was the last major construction completing the Seaboard’s rail system. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A northbound Orange Blossom Special under the train shed on a house track at Richmond’s Main Street Station most likely late 1920s or 1930s. The track in the foreground is Seaboard’s main line to the south. Soon after the train leaves Main Street Station it will be on Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac tracks for the journey to Washington Union Station and ultimately Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Internet photo.
A passenger boarding a southbound Orange Blossom Special in the 1930s at Sebring, Florida in the heart of orange grove country. Sebring has long been an interior resort area. Internet photo.
Festivities and celebration in 1927 at Lake Wales for the arrival of the Orange Blossom Special on Seaboard’s new track extension to Miami. Internet photo.
The Orange Blossom Special at Seaboard’s important Wildwood, Florida yard in the 1930s or just before World War II. Internet photo.

From Wikipedia: “Spurred by the success of Henry Flagler and his rival Florida East Coast Railway in attracting travelers, the Orange Blossom Special became famous in its own right.

“It was renowned for its speed and luxury. E. M. Frimbo, “The World’s Greatest Railway Buff,” offered this account of a dining car chef who had worked aboard the train:

‘Our chef...spent nine of his forty-three years with the Pennsylvania Railroad as chef on the celebrated all-Pullman New York-to-Florida train the Orange Blossom Special – the most luxurious winter-season train ever devised by man. Nothing even remotely resembling a can opener was allowed on the premises. All the pies, cakes, rolls, birthday cakes were baked on board under his supervision. Cut flowers and fresh fish were taken on at every revictualing stop, and the train carried thirty-five hundred dollars' worth of wine, liquor and champagne – these at pre-Prohibition prices – for each run.’”

The post-war 1949 Orange Blossom Special dinner menu had something for every taste, from plain to refined:




Chilled Blended Orange and Grapefruit Juice, Crab Flake Cocktail, Bisque of Sea Food, Consomme, Dumont

Sweet Pickle Strips

Broiled Southern Shad with Roe, Creamed Crab Meat on Toast, Broiled or Fried Milk Fed Spring Chicken, Baked Sugar Cured Ham, Sultana Sauce, Roast Leg of Spring Lamb, Mint Jelly, or Grilled Sirloin Steak with Onion Rings (An additional cost for $3.75)

Choice of two: Baked Potato, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli, Hollandaise, Fried Egg Plant

Pineapple and Cottage Cheese Salad

Assorted Bread, Sally Lunn Muffins

Ice Cream with Wafers, Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Cream, Fruit Tapioca Pudding, Custard Sauce, Chilled Florida Grapefruit

Coffee, Tea, Milk

A La Carte

Juices, each for 25 cents: Chilled Blended Orange and Grapefruit Juice, Chilled Florida Tangerine Juice, Chilled Florida Grapefruit Juice, Chilled Florida Orange Juice, Tomato Juice Cocktail, and Chilled Apple Juice

Relishes: Chilled Florida Celery; 35 cents, Pickles; 25 cents, Queen Olives; 35 cents

Soup: Chicken, Cup 30; cents, Tureen; 45 cents; Consomme, Hot or Cold, Cup; 30 cents, Tomato, Cup; 30 cents; Tureen; 45 cents, Turtle Soup with Sherry, Cup; 30 cents; Tureen; 45 cents

Fish and Oysters: Broiled or Fried Fish; $1.00, Oysters, Fried, Tartar Sauce; 85 cents, Stewed with Milk; 70 cents; with cream; 85 cents

Grilled, Etc.: Lamb Chop, each; 75 cents, Bacon and Eggs; $1.00, Ham and Eggs; $1.00, Broiled or Fried Ham; $1.00, Broiled or Fried Milk Fed Chicken; $1.15

Vegetables: Potatoes – Hashed Browned, Lyonnaise or French Fried; 30 cents, Boiled or Mashed; 30 cents, Baked Beans, Hot or Cold; 40 cents, Asparagus, Drawn Butter; 35 cents

Sandwiches: Ham; 60 cents, Tongue; 60 cents, Lettuce and Tomato; 50 cents, Club; $1.25, Chicken (Toasted); 85 cents, Chicken Salad Sandwich; 85 cents

Cold Meats, Salads, Etc.: Imported Sardines; 60 cents, Assorted Cold Meats, Potato Salad; $1.35, Head Lettuce, Choicer of Dressing; 50 cents, Ham, $1.25, with Potato Salad; $1.35, Sliced Tomatoes; 40 cents, Sliced Chicken; $1.15, Chicken Salad; $1.10, Lettuce and Tomato; 60 cents

Bread: Assorted; 15 cents, Milk Toast; 40 cents, Hot Rolls; 20 cents, Toast; 20 cents, Cream Toast; 60 cents, Crackers; 10 cents

Fruits, Desserts, Etc.: Sliced Pineapple; 30 cents, Florida Guava Jelly; 30 cents, Florida Grapefruit; 25 cents, Prunes with Cream; 35 cents, Orange Blossom Honey; 30 cents, Florida Orange Marmalade; 30 cents, Ice Cream with Wafers; 35 cents, Wafers; 10 cents

Cheese With Crackers: Cream; 35 cents, with Guava Jelly; 45 cents, Roquefort; 40 cents, Camembert; 40 cents

Beverages: Demi Tasse; 15 cents, Ice Tea or Coffee, Pot; 25 cents, Coffee, Pot; 25 cents, Tea, Pot; 25 cents, Decaffeinated Coffee, Pot; 25 cents, Instant Postum, Pot; 25 cents, Cocoa, Pot; 25 cents, Milk, Individual; 20 cents, Buttermilk, Individual; 20 cents

During the Great Depression, it wasn’t unusual for each day’s Florida Special or Orange Blossom Special to operate in several sections because of the popularity of the trains and high passenger demand.

South of Jacksonville, the Florida Special operated to Miami over the Florida East Coast Railway, and continued to do so until the FEC strike in 1963; it then moved over to the Seaboard main line south of Auburndale.

A 1926 view of Florida East Coast Railway’s Daytona passenger train station. The Daytona station was one of the larger stations on the FEC. After the 1963 strike against the FEC, the railroad ceased most passenger train service on the railroad and then in 1968 ended the pocket streamliner which the State of Florida had mandated the FEC operate to provide minimal passenger service from North Miami to Jacksonville. At the time of the strike, the Atlantic Coast Line, which had historically used the FEC to reach Miami, moved its passenger trains off the FEC and onto rival Seaboard’s tracks at Auburndale for the run on the Seaboard into South Florida and Miami. By 1963 the merger between the Seaboard and Atlantic Coast Line was already under Interstate Commerce Commission review, so while the two railroads were still technically rivals, they were hoping to be joined into one railroad together. After the last service ended the FEC moved quickly to demolish most of its passenger-related stations and buildings. Wikimedia Commons image.
A 1959 view of the original downtown Miami FEC passenger station. After the 1963 FEC strike, the station was torn down. State of Florida Archives photo.
A 1930s aerial view of the Florida East Coast Railway Miami station packed with heavyweight cars near the government center in downtown Miami. The station served both FEC and Atlantic Coast Line trains as well as all of the Chicago-Florida trains from the Illinois Central and Pennsylvania railroads. The station was closed after the 1963 FEC strike and soon after demolished. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A contemporary view of the exact same address in downtown Miami as shown in the photo immediately above. Where the FEC’s Miami wooden terminal and coach yard used to stand is now Brightline’s MiamiCentral Station. Brightline operates over shared tracks with the FEC and in 2023 construction was completed to take 16 daily Brightline round trips from MiamiCentral Station north to Cocoa over the FEC and then turn west to Orlando International Airport over new 125 mph track which was built along the easement of a state highway. Eventually Brightline will extend to downtown Tampa and later north all the way up the FEC to Jacksonville. Brightline publicity photo.
Overview of Brightline’s MiamiCentral Station transit oriented development. Brightline publicity image.
A Brightline train just north of MiamiCentral Station. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A late 1930s Florida Special publicity photo taken in the FEC’s Miami coach yard. Wikimedia Commons photo.
An important addition to public transportation options for Florida’s Gold Coast is the inauguration of service for Tri-Rail into Brightline’s MiamiCentral Station on January 13, 2024. Initial plans for Tri-Rail to have service into MiamiCentral Station were in place from the beginning, but a number of issues and errors prevented Tri-Rail from fulfilling its decades-long promise for service to downtown Miami until now. Wikimedia Commons photo.
This sign has patiently been waiting outside of MiamiCentral Station for the first train to arrive, which will take place on January 13, 2024. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The Orange Blossom Special operated through the middle of Florida’s peninsula on Seaboard’s main line through Wildwood, with a west coast section splitting there for Tampa and points south. To take advantage of the Florida Land Boom, S. Warfield Davies, the president of the Seaboard (and, uncle to Wallis Warfield Simpson, who would marry the King of England and become the Duchess of Windsor) extended the railroad’s reach to West Palm Beach and Miami. The former Seaboard tracks from West Palm Beach to Miami are today’s Tri-Rail commuter rail tracks.

Both the Seaboard and Coast Line had post-war plans to expand their streamlined trains consists. Seaboard’s Silver Meteor and competitor Coast Line’s Champion were both inaugurated before the war in 1939 as all-coach trains; not until after the war did enough new streamlined equipment arrive that the trains could be full-service trains with coaches, Pullman sleeping cars, diners and lounges.

As the new radio and then television broadcast industries grew in New York City – Hollywood was initially primarily a movie town; broadcasting would come to Hollywood later than New York City – the stars and executives of radio and television followed the crowds and vacationed in sunny Florida, primarily Miami and Miami Beach.

Arthur Godfrey in 1938. He was so popular at one time in the 1950s and 1960s he had both radio and television shows and was seen on CBS television six days a week. He spent so much time broadcasting in Miami Beach in addition to his New York studios that he bought partial interest in the Kenilworth Hotel and had a street named after him. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A 1948 Arthur Godfrey ad for his long-time sponsor Chesterfield cigarettes, one of his primary sponsors along with Lipton Tea. Godfrey, a lifelong heavy smoker, would die of Emphysema in 1983 at the age of 79. Wikimedia Commons image.
Movie poster for 1959’s Some Like It Hot. Lots of trains, Miami Beach and Marilyn Monroe plus Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. The movie may have been set in Roaring 20s Miami Beach, but was actually filmed at the famed Del Coronado hotel and resort in San Diego. Wikimedia Commons image.
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon leaving Chicago for Miami Beach in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Surfside 6 in Miami Beach, home of the 1960-1962 beefcake and bikinis television show of the same name. The opening credits and some stock outdoor scenes such as the houseboat docked at the Surfside 6 address on Collins Avenue across the street from the Fountainbleau hotel were filmed in Miami Beach, but the show was filmed in Hollywood. Internet image.
The primary cast of Surfside 6: Margarita Sierra, Troy Donahue, Lee Patterson, Diane McBain and Van Williams. Internet photo.
Circa 1960s promotional post card including the Surfside Six houseboat and the Fountainbleau Hotel. Internet image.
Movie poster for 1967’s Tony Rome which was filmed primarily in Miami and South Florida, starring Frank Sinatra as a tough guy private eye and Jill St. John. Internet image.
Frank Sinatra as Tony Rome and Jill St. John on Miami Beach with (of course) the Fountainbleau Hotel as the backdrop. Internet image.
Frank Sinatra and Jill St. John from Tony Rome. Internet photo.
Jackie Gleason on Miami Beach in 1968 promoting both Miami Beach and The Jackie Gleason Show which aired from Miami Beach on Saturday nights on CBS. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A promotional post card from The Jackie Gleason Show featuring the Miami Beach Auditorium where the show was filmed. Wikimedia Commons image.
The full cast of The Honeymooners in 1955. The original black and white show was filmed in New York City. When The Honeymooners was revived as a popular part of The Jackie Gleason Show filmed in Miami Beach in the 1960s, fans were able to see new episodes of The Honeymooners in color. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Mike Nichols’ 1996 The Birdcage starring Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane and Dianne Wiest was set in the South Beach part of Miami Beach. The movie as principally filmed in and around South Florida. Internet image.
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane on Miami Beach in the 1996 movie, The Birdcage. Internet photo.
The Birdcage, 1250 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, as seen in the 1996 movie. Internet photo.
The Carlyle, 1250 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, the real building which appeared as The Birdcage. Built in 1940, The Carlyle is a vibrant part of the Art Deco South Beach area. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Miami Beach boasted hosting radio and early black and white television shows from such luminaries and Arthur Godfrey for CBS (he broadcasted from both Miami Beach and New York City; he bought part of the Kenilworth Hotel and had a street named for him).

In 1959 the classic Some Like It Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon was also set in the Roaring 20s Miami Beach, but was actually filmed at San Diego, California’s Del Coronado Hotel and Hollywood sound stages.

For two seasons from 1960 to 1962 the weekly mystery/detective show Surfside 6 was set in Miami Beach across the street from the Fountainbleau Hotel. Surfside 6 was an early beefcake and bikinis show that even though it was set in Miami Beach it was filmed in Hollywood.

Frank Sinatra and Jill St. John starred in Tony Rome in 1967 and it was filmed principally in South Florida. Sinatra had other movies also set in Miami Beach and South Florida.

In the late 1960s Jackie Gleason tired of doing his weekly television shows from New York City and relocated The Jackie Gleason Show on Saturday nights (as the announcer said at the opening of each show with appropriate accompanying images) “from the fun and sun capital of the world, Miami Beach.” It was filmed at the Miami Beach Auditorium.

The 1960s show happily featured the return of Gleason’s famous The Honeymooners which made him famous in the 1950s, and by the late 1960s the show was in color. Gleason was an avid golfer and he liked to play year-round in South Florida.

Dom DeLuise also filmed his television show at the same Miami Beach Auditorium as Jackie Gleason in 1968.

Robin Williams Gene Hackman and Nathan Lane starred in The Birdcage in 1996. It was set in South Beach and other parts of Miami and much of the movie was filmed there.

Seaboard Air Line Railroad Miami terminal station, built for the 1927 extension of the railroad. This photo was taken in the 1930s. The station would stay active until Amtrak built a new Miami station in 1978 at Seaboard’s Hialeah coach yard well north of downtown Miami. This station served the Orange Blossom Special, Sun Queen, Palmland, Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Seaboard’s Cross Florida passenger service. After 1963 it hosted Atlantic Coast Line’s Florida Special, Champion, City of Miami and more. For Amtrak it hosted the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Champion, Vacationer and Floridian. The station has been demolished and the site now hosts a public building. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Seaboard’s first diesels had a yellow, green and orange citrus theme. A northbound train in the 1950s is shown at Seaboard’s Miami terminal station.
Seaboard’s Miami station in the early Amtrak era in 1974. The new Hialeah coach yard station would replace this station in 1978. Much of the Seaboard station was not air conditioned when it was built in 1927, but instead relied on standard Florida architectural practices of shaded spaces and high ceilings to combat the heat and humidity. Wikimedia Commons photo.
June 1978 and the Hialeah/Miami Amtrak station is new, hosting a crowd of passengers about to board a northbound train. The upper floor houses the Amtrak office for the Miami division. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The Amtrak Hialeah/Miami passenger station. Tri-Rail bypasses this station and serves Miami International Airport. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The Miami International Airport passenger train station, which is part of the airport complex. The station is currently used by Tri-Rail and is connected to other Miami-Dade County transit lines; it was built for use by Amtrak, but as of now, more than a decade after it was built, Amtrak has not chosen to occupy the facility,. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Now, over half a century into the Amtrak era, both the Silver Meteor and Silver Star, successors to the Orange Blossom Special and Florida Special, still bring shivering northern passengers to the warm climes of Florida. In the Orange Blossom Special and Florida Special era, the winter season was considered the “high season” for travel to Florida. That was before the common commercial use of air conditioning in all buildings and homes in Florida. Since the middle 1960s, and the initial opening of Walt Disney World in the Central Florida Orlando area in 1971, summer has become the high season for Florida travel.

Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Worth Avenue is what modern-day Palm Beach is all about: high-end shopping and gracious living. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Atlantic Coast Line/Seaboard Coast Line’s Champion survived into Amtrak, but was killed in one of the early cost cutting programs. A third Florida train was added in the 1990s, the Silver Palm, but it was cut, too, for the same reasons the Champion and Florida Special went away.

Now, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star and distant cousin Auto Train maintain service from the northeast into Florida.

1936 Seaboard map showing its full Florida system. Wikimedia Commons image.
1930s Seaboard promotional post card featuring a heavily streamlined and colorful locomotive at St. Petersburg. Wikimedia Commons image.
1950s Seaboard promotional poster featuring General Motors locomotives. Seaboard’s Silver Fleet was just that – all stainless steel silver cars with the only adornments being black SEABOARD lettering on the name letter boards and car numbers. No Seaboard logos or other coloring appeared anywhere on the outside of the Silver Fleet which was used on the Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Silver Comet to Atlanta and Birmingham. Wikimedia Commons image.
Seaboard and Seaboard Coast Line issued pocket timetables for the Silver Meteor and Silver Star (and initially the Silver Comet) up until Amtrak Day in 1971. These small, folded card timetables were issued as accessories to Seaboard’s standard timetables showing all trains. Wikimedia Commons image.
Each pocket time table featured train consists on the back. Note the equipment had three Florida destinations: Miami, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Venice. The train split in Wildwood into Miami and St. Petersburg sections. Once the St. Petersburg section reached Tampa Union Station it split again into a St. Petersburg section and a Sarasota-Venice section. There no longer is any train service beyond Tampa Union Station. Clearwater and St. Petersburg and Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples are all now served by Amtrak Thruway Bus connections. Wikimedia Commons image.
Seaboard Registered Nurse/Stewardess Patricia Howell ready to greet passengers for the Silver Meteor at the Miami station in 1955. The Silver Meteor and Silver Star carried nurse personnel year-round. Internet photo.
1950s Seaboard promotional photo featuring its citrus-themed locomotives running through a Florida citrus grove. This became a popular location for Seaboard company photographers seeking to have all of the desired elements in one place. Wikimedia Commons photo.
More 1950s citrus-themed locomotives. Internet photo.
The Silver Meteor’s Sun Lounge was featured on its own post card. This circa 1950s shot faithfully represented the Sun Lounge; this same furniture lasted until Amtrak. A single Pullman Porter handled beverages and light snacks in the lounge area plus the five bedrooms in the car. Because dome cars could not fit through the tunnel at Washington Union Station or the tunnel at Baltimore or under the Northeast Corridor catenary, Pullman Standard’s answer was the Sun Lounge with extraordinarily large side windows and overhead windows. Many consider this unique car design to be the parent of today’s Superliner Sightseer Lounge cars. Internet photo.
An exterior view of a Silver Meteor Sun Lounge car in Wildwood, Florida in 1970 showing the large side and roof windows. Internet photo
Hollywood Beach Sun Lounge is now in private hands and shown in a contemporary photo. Hollywood Beach is the only Sun Lounge extant; just three were built. Internet photo.
A full Seaboard dining car crew, most likely posing at Sunnyside Yard in Queens, ready to leave for New York Pennsylvania Station and the return south to the home crew base of Miami. Internet photo.
Street running in St. Petersburg for the St. Pete section of the Silver Meteor in 1957. Internet photo.
More street running for the Silver Meteor, this time in Clearwater on the way to Tampa Union Station. Circa 1950s. Internet photo.
A typical Florida weather day in Hialeah on the Seaboard main line in 1967. Internet photo.
The Silver Meteor’s tavern observation car for coach passengers circa 1960s. An unusual photo because the rear end of the car is clear of the usual fog of cigarette smoke with a view from the serving counter to the back of the car. The Silver Meteor carried its Pullman sleepers on the front of the train because it featured the exclusive Sun Lounge car which was a mid-train car, leaving the round-end observation tavern car the single domain of coach passengers, which heavily patronized the car, taking advantage of adult beverages and an additional place to smoke, even though each coach seat had an individual ashtray for smokers. Internet photo.
The same series of car on the Seaboard Coast Line Silver Meteor in March of 1971, just a few weeks before Amtrak Day. SCL had wisely refurbished the car in more sturdy fabrics and finishes which were less likely to stain from spilled drinks or absorb smoke on a car which was constantly subjected to back-end sway. Internet photo.
Seaboard’s Silver Meteor always seemed to be running away from the photographer, but the classic round-end observation car with the Silver Meteor drumhead made good photography, especially with the signature citrus peeking in the photograph. Internet photo.
Seaboard’s main line in Jacksonville, Florida with the Silver Meteor crossing the Trout River on the city’s northside. This line which led to Savannah was truncated by Seaboard Coast Line and downgraded to local service in favor of the parallel former Atlantic Coast Line main line to Savannah. This photo best illustrates how “silver” Seaboard’s Silver Fleet was. No logos, no extra markings. Just a streamlined consist of passing silver. Internet photo.
Southbound Seaboard Coast Line Silver Meteor departing the Fort Lauderdale station in 1969. Note the single main line track through the station. See another Fort Lauderdale Silver Meteor photo below. Internet photo.
Northbound Silver Meteor at Richmond’s Broad Street Station in 1966. The northbound schedule was designed for good departure times in Florida and good arrival times in Washington north to New York City. Richmond as a result got the fuzzy end of the northbound scheduling lollypop with a Richmond arrival around 3 a.m. But, the northbound Silver Star on the identical route arrived in Richmond around 8 a.m. in a very civilized fashion. Internet photo.
Another Silver Meteor shot in 1966 somewhere on the Northeast Corridor. Internet photo.
Seaboard Coast Line’s Silver Meteor in 1970 under a cloudy Florida sky. SCL added the logos on the side of the cars. Internet photo.
Amtrak’s Silver Meteor in 1977 at the former Seaboard station in Miami. The new station in Hialeah would not open until 1978. By 1977 the Miami section of the Meteor had lost the round-end observation car. Internet photo.
Tampa Union Station was the largest west coast station for both the Seaboard’s west coast section of the Silver Meteor and Atlantic Coast Line’s West Coast Champion. It was derelict for decades, but restored in the early 2000s. Today it serves Amtrak’s Silver Star and Thruway Bus Service for the Silver Meteor. Internet photo.
Northbound Amtrak Silver Meteor at Winter Park in 2016. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Southbound Amtrak Silver Meteor at Fort Lauderdale in 2008. By 2008 all of the former Seaboard main line south of West Palm Beach had been sold to the State of Florida for the benefit of the new Tri-Rail commuter service. All stations had been upgraded to meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and the route was double-tracked. J. Bruce Richardson photo.
A southbound Silver Star passes through Main Street Station on the main line in Richmond without stopping in the 1960s. Seaboard by the time this photo was taken had moved its passenger train operations from Main Street Station to Broad Street Station a few miles away which also hosted the Atlantic Coast Line and Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac passenger trains. Main Street station was left to only host Chesapeake & Ohio trains and house some division offices on upper floors. Internet photo.
The Silver Star at Richmond Broad Street Station in 1966. Broad Street Station today is the Virginia Science Museum. The platforms and canopies still exist, but the majority of the tracks have been removed and the station has been severed from any active rail line. Broad Street Station was a run-through station for ACL and RF&P trains, but because of the location of Seaboard’s main line, SAL trains had to always back into the station. Internet photo.
Seaboard’s Silver Star in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1966. The line used by the Star in 1966 is slated to become the Southeast High Speed Rail line and the State of North Carolina in 2023 received a billion dollar federal grant to begin the process of upgrading to a high speed rail line. The Seaboard Raleigh station in 1966 has not been used as a train station during much of Amtrak’s existence. The former Southern Railway station became the Amtrak station, but that has now been replaced by a new Raleigh Union Station with a high level-boarding platform. Amtrak’s Silver Star is the only full-service long distance/inter-regional train with sleeping cars and a dining car serving Raleigh. Other current Amtrak trains serving Raleigh are all subsidized by the State of North Carolina and include the Carolinian and Piedmont Service trains. Internet photo.
A contemporary view of Raleigh Union Station. The location of the station skirts the current CSX line from Selma, North Carolina connecting to Columbia, South Carolina as well as the former Seaboard Air Line main line (just south of the former Seaboard passenger train station) that will become the Southeast High Speed Rail line, with a station already in place. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A 1968 night shot of Seaboard Coast Line’s Silver Star at Petersburg, Virginia. Wikimedia Commons photo.

All of Amtrak’s current long distance network/inter-regional trains have a pre-Amtrak, private railroad heritage. The Silver Meteor and Silver Star are names which survive directly from the pre-Amtrak era, and, even though much of their “home road” route is that of the Silver Meteor and Silver Star rival Atlantic Coast Line’s Champion and Florida Special, they still travel their routes south of Washington, D.C. on the tracks of the successor railroad to the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, first Seaboard Coast Line, then Family Lines, then Seaboard System and finally today’s CSX.

CSX Transportation, the host railroad over which the Meteor and Star operate today between Washington, D.C. and Miami, Florida is a relatively new company name. Here briefly is the CSX heritage:

1966 timetable cover. Internet image.
Seaboard Coast Line’s first timetable, effective the first day of the SAL/ACL merger. Internet image.

The Seaboard Air Line Railroad was founded was in 1900 after a consolidation of older, shorter railroads. It ran south from Richmond, Virginia to Florida; first the west coast, and later into Miami.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, also founded in 1900, was also a consolidation of older, shorter railroads, the first dating back to 1830. It also ran south from Richmond, Virginia into Florida, to the west coast. It’s passenger trains ran down the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville into Miami until 1963, when FEC employees went on strike and attempted to close the railroad.

The Seaboard and Coast Line merged on July 1, 1967, forming Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. Seaboard Coast Line and the Family Lines lasted until 1983 when the Seaboard System Railroad was formed, which included the Louisville & Nashville (L&N) Railroad and the Clinchfield Railroad, among other small lines.

Seaboard System and the Chessie System (former Chesapeake & Ohio [C&O] and the Baltimore & Ohio [B&O] and other smaller railroads) merged in 1987 to form the modern day CSX Transportation. In 1999, CSX merged the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac (RF&P) into the company.

Originally the Silver Meteor and Silver Star were operated by three railroads by an interline agreement.

Seaboard Coast Line Railroad believed in its passenger trains right up until Amtrak Day on May 1, 1971. This roadside billboard was in Richmond, Virginia in 1970. Internet photo.
Starting at the home crew and maintenance bases for the Seaboard’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star in Miami, this map based on the 1955 Official Guide of the Railways entry shows the interline route from Seaboard’s northern interchange in Richmond with the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and then further interchange with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Washington Union Station for travel up the Pennsylvania’s Northeast Corridor to New York Pennsylvania Station. Wikimedia Commons image.

The trains were home based at Seaboard’s Hialeah Yard in Miami where all major maintenance took place and the onboard services crews were headquartered.

Northbound, the trains operated over home tracks on the Seaboard, north to Richmond, Virginia, where they became RF&P trains between Richmond and Washington, D.C. At Washington Union Station, the trains became Pennsylvania Railroad trains, operating along the Northeast Corridor into New York Pennsylvania Station. The trains had turn maintenance and restocking performed for the southbound trip at Sunnyside Yard in Queens, which was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Silver Meteor and Silver Star (and, the Silver Comet which served Atlanta and Birmingham) were extraordinary trains in their day when operated by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. The SAL styled itself as The Route of Courteous Service, and that was true on its passenger trains.

The routes of the Silver Meteor and Silver Star as shown on a contemporary Amtrak system map, Miami to New York Pennsylvania Station. Wikimedia Commons image.

The stainless steel trains had some of the best equipment in the country, and they served a high-maintenance clientele which traveled during the winter season between New York City and Miami. With the exception of the restriction of dome cars on the Northeast Corridor, no classic streamliners anywhere in North America had any nicer equipment or level of service than was found on Seaboard’s Silver Fleet. Today’s Amtrak Silver Service is based on the Seaboard’s Silver Fleet.

The Seaboard had four New York-Florida trains in the post-war era. By the time the Silver Meteor gained its full place on the SAL horizon, the famous Orange Blossom Special, which was a winter seasonal train, was gone, with the Meteor and Silver Star taking its place and operating year round. In addition to the Meteor and Star, there was the Sunland and Palmland, the last two being “all stops local” trains with heavy loads of mail and express.

New York Pennsylvania Station, 1922. Only about a decade old in this photo, The Pennsylvania Railroad built a temple to itself that was not only expensive to build, but had high ongoing maintenance and upkeep costs that eventually led the Pennsylvania Railroad to sell the upper portion of the station and it was demolished while keeping the underground tracks and warren of lobbies. Wikimedia Commons photo.
1910, when New York Pennsylvania Station was new and the pride of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Seaboard Air Line Railroad, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the Southern Railway all had interline agreements with the Pennsylvania Railroad to handle their trains into New York Pennsylvania Station. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The Moynihan Train Hall, across the street from the original New York Pennsylvania Station now is Amtrak’s New York station. After the destruction of New York Pennsylvania Station, an office tower and the Madison Square Garden sports arena/entertainment venue was built on the site of the former station above ground. This 2021 photo shows the results of the former Farley Post Office Building now sharing space with Amtrak to bring back some grandeur to New York City as a major passenger train terminal. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Southbound, the Star had the early departure from New York Penn at 9:30 a.m. and during off seasons, was often paired with a Pennsylvania Railroad corridor train to Washington before being handed off to the RF&P for the run to Richmond, the northernmost point of the Seaboard.

Seaboard Coast Line version of the Silver Meteor at Alexandria, Virginia Union Station, just south of Washington Union Station in 1969 on the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. SCL often ran run-through locomotives from Miami to Washington Union Station, avoiding an engine change in Richmond from SCL to the RF&P motive power. During the period some RF&P locomotives would make occasional appearances in Florida. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The Sunland was next, at 11:30 a.m.; it was a New York-West Coast of Florida train into Tampa and points south.

Seaboard 1961 timetable chart for the Silver Meteor. Internet image.

The Silver Meteor departed at 2:50 p.m.; it was not unusual for both the Meteor and Atlantic Coast Line’s Champion to be side by side on a New York Penn platform, with their separate departures but ultimate destinations less than an hour apart.

The Palmland was the latest departure for Florida, at 7:30 p.m.

The train schedules were designed for end-point-to-end-point convenience. Keep in mind that Florida during the SAL era was mostly developed along the coasts, and middle of the Florida peninsula was orange groves, farms, and mosquitos.

While the Silver Meteor was the pride of the Seaboard fleet, the Silver Star was a notable train, too. It did not carry a Pullman Sun Lounge, but carried a five bedroom Pullman lounge. The Star’s dining car offered the identical menu of the Silver Meteor. The Star had coaches on the front end of the train, with a modified round end Tavern observation car for coach passengers mid-train. The Pullman sleeping cars brought up the rear. At Richmond, the “Richmond sleeper” was added to the southbound train, and ran to Miami.

Both the Meteor and Star ran with a standard onboard services crew of a Passenger Services Agent (who wore an airline style hat to distinguish him from the T&E crew, which wore traditional conductor hats), a nurse, one attendant per coach, and one sleeping car attendant per sleeping car. The Pullman lounge attendant worked both the lounge area and the five double bedrooms. In addition to the SAL conductors, there was also a Pullman conductor, responsible for the sleeping car passengers. The Pullman conductor lifted the sleeping car passenger tickets and handled any other issues. The 48 seat dining car had a steward, waiters, and the kitchen chefs, cooks and dishwashers for the railroad-branded china and silver. From a rather shameful past on the Seaboard as many other railroads, too, it was presumed the waiters could not read nor write, and dining car patrons had to write their food order on a table check provided by the steward. Waiters were not allowed to take verbal food orders. The only credit card at the time (later, before Amtrak and before the invention of the VISA and MasterCards) was the Rail Travel Card, so the dining car stewards and lounge attendants handled a lot of cash.

Rail Travel Card. Wikimedia Commons image.

The Star was introduced as a premium companion train to the Silver Meteor. Most railroad employee pass-holders were not allowed to use their company passes on the Meteor and Star.

File illustration.

Typically, both of these train would run from 12 to 15 cars (all steam heat; HEP had not yet been invented), and had high load factors.

The Meteor ran with an all-bedroom Pullman sleeping car that included a drawing room. In the 1960s there were still some celebrities which preferred not to fly, such as Jackie Gleason, who lived in the Miami area. He was a regular patron of the Silver Meteor’s drawing room to New York City, having his meals served to him in his room.

The Star did not quite draw the Hollywood types the Meteor did, but it did draw an upscale patronage in its Pullman sleeping cars.

When the Seaboard and Atlantic Coast Line merged to form Seaboard Coast Line on July 1, 1967, all of the passenger train fleets from both railroads were retained. It wasn’t until the advent of Amtrak on May 1, 1971 that saw a reduction in frequencies. Gone were the Palmland, Sunland, Everglades, Gulf Coast Special, and the locals. Remaining were the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, the Champion, and winter season Florida Special in the early years.

The newspaper and magazine ad announcing the merger had been approved and taken place on July 1, 1967. Internet image.

Under Amtrak in the early years, these trains all ran with 18 car consists, and, the Meteor, Star and Champion would operate with two dining cars per consist in order to feed everyone efficiently, plus lounge cars.

On the left is John W. Smith, the president of Seaboard and W. Thomas Rice, the president of the Atlantic Coast Line posing at Broad Street Station in Richmond for a publicity photo showing off the new Seaboard Coast Line logo on the front of a former ACL locomotive in June of 1967. The merger would be completed July 1, 1967. Mr. Smith would become the first chairman of SCL and Mr. Rice the president. Soon after, Mr. Smith would completely retire from the company and Mr.Rice would be in full control. The Seaboard had been headquartered in Richmond and the Coast Line in Jacksonville. Richmond would remain the official corporate office with a small corporate staff, but the operating headquarters would be in downtown Jacksonville. Mr. Rice had been president of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad before taking over as president of the Coast Line. His home was always in Richmond, and he maintained offices in both Richmond and Jacksonville, commuting frequently on his office car and in the company jet airplane. Six hundred Seaboard employee families moved from Richmond to Jacksonville in the summer of 1967. While initially all locomotives retained their original pre-merger paint schemes with only logos and lettering changed, eventually all Seaboard Coast Line locomotives would convert to the ACL black and yellow paint scheme as locomotives underwent normal paint maintenance and updating. Internet photo.
Al Capone, Miami winter resident starting in 1928 except when in federal prison for eight years. This mug shot taken in 1929 in Philadelphia. Wikimedia Commons photo.

These trains remained 18 car consists up until the late 1990s Amtrak introduction of the Viewliner sleeping cars, and an unfortunate Amtrak manager decided to create the “common consist” trains of the Meteor, Star, the added Silver Palm, Lake Shore Limited, and Crescent. The consists rotated between all five trains (which all used New York Penn and Sunnyside yard in Queens) so all of the equipment would cycle through the old Seaboard Hialeah maintenance shops in South Florida, which was the east coast home maintenance base for single level equipment.

As Amtrak passengers entrain the Meteor and Star, they probably are not aware of the long and illustrious heritage of these two former premium trains. Passengers paid a higher fare to ride these trains as compared to the Sunland and Palmland, and expected and received a higher level of service.

Miami has always drawn an eclectic range of residents, both those escaping the winter cold or those seeking a year-round residence in a vibrant city. A contemporary view of mobster Al Capone’s Miami Beach residence. He would die in Miami in 1947 after release from federal prison. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A contemporary view of the Miami skyline as seen from the water off Miami Beach. Wikimedia Commons photo.

There was a reason why these two trains were considered profitable right up to Amtrak Day on May 1, 1971, over 52 years ago. Both trains had a loyal clientele, it wasn’t unusual for northern snowbirds to use the Meteor and Star year after year for good transportation to escape the winter weather and enjoy warm, sunny Florida.

If you don’t have a full appreciation of how much passenger trains meant to the creation of modern Florida and continuing growth, this is a bird’s-eye view of Jacksonville Union Station, built during the Woodrow Wilson Administration. At the time, while an important east coast port city, Jacksonville was at best a medium-size city by today’s standards. But, it had a train station necessary to handle all of the passenger train traffic. The tracks to the left of the headhouse in the photo are the Florida East Coast Railway through tracks. The stub end tracks at the top of the photo handled passengers as well as U.S. Mail Railway Post Office cars. The station served the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, Florida East Coast and Southern railroads. Today, the headhouse has been saved and it is part of the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center. When Brightline comes to Jacksonville, perhaps as soon as the next 20 years, the station will again serve passenger trains. Internet photo.
A contemporary view of the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Today’s Jacksonville, Florida Amtrak station. Two house tracks and a now-surplus mail loading platform. The station serves the Silver Meteor and Silver Star, and previously also served the Sunset Limited. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Editor’s Note: This article contains material from two previously published articles on February 24, 2021 and April 13, 2022. New information was been added as well as photographs and illustrations for publication in December 2022; it has been further updated for this presentation. – Coridorrail.com Editor

1946 Illinois Central Railroad newspaper advertisement. Internet image.
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