Seaboard–All Florida Railway

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Seaboard–All Florida Railway
Seaboard Air Line 1936 map showing extensions built by the Seaboard–All Florida Railway on both coasts
LocaleEast and West Coasts of Florida
SuccessorSeaboard Air Line Railroad
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Seaboard–All Florida Railway was a subsidiary of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad that oversaw two major extensions of the system in the early 1920s to southern Florida on each coast during the land boom. One line extended the Seaboard's tracks on the east coast from West Palm Beach down to Fort Lauderdale and Miami (and later, Homestead), while the other extension on the west coast extended the tracks from Fort Ogden south to Fort Myers and Naples, with branches from Fort Myers to LaBelle and Punta Rassa. These two extensions were heavily championed by Seaboard president S. Davies Warfield (who died months after its completion), and were constructed by Foley Brothers railroad contractors. Both extensions also allowed the Seaboard to better compete with the Florida East Coast Railway and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, who already served the lower east and west coasts of Florida respectively.

Today, only the east coast route survives and is now the state-owned South Florida Rail Corridor (which notably hosts Tri-Rail and Amtrak service for South Florida) and the Homestead Subdivision, which is still owned by CSX Transportation. The west coast route was removed in 1952.

Grand opening celebration[edit]

Inaugural Orange Blossom Special in Miami on January 8, 1927

The Seaboard–All Florida Railway's west coast route commenced operation on January 7, 1927, and the east coast route began service the following day. On each opening day, President S. Davies Warfield rode aboard a special section of the Seaboard's Orange Blossom Special with a number of special guests and dignitaries including Florida Governor John W. Martin. Dorothy Walker Bush, mother of U.S. President George H. W. Bush was also aboard the first train to Miami.[1] The train stopped at points along the lines for public ovation with nearly 20,000 people attending. The two-day celebration is considered to be one of the largest public relations events in the history of American railroads.[2][3]

East Coast[edit]

Map of East Coast Line as it appeared in 1927 (click to enlarge)

Route and history[edit]

The Seaboard Air Line Railroad began serving West Palm Beach in January 1925. Seaboard's line to West Palm Beach, which originated at their main line in Coleman (just south of Wildwood), was built by the Florida Western and Northern Railroad, another Seaboard Air Line subsidiary. The Seaboard-All Florida Railway was organized to extend this line south from West Palm Beach to Miami. When service on the line began, the Seaboard–All Florida Railway from West Palm Beach to Miami (along with track north of West Palm Beach to Coleman) was designated as the Seaboard Air Line Railroad's Miami Subdivision on employee timetables and the extension to Homestead was designated as the Homestead Subdivision.[4]

Upon its completion in January 1927, track ran from West Palm Beach south along a route largely paralleling the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), which existed a few miles closer to the coast. The Seaboard line ran just to the west of the central areas of Boynton, Delray, Boca Raton, Deerfield, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood.

At Port Everglades Junction just south of Fort Lauderdale, the Port Everglades Belt Line Railroad connected the Seaboard line with Port Everglades, which opened in 1928. The Port Everglades Belt Line ran east to the port along the current route of Interstate 595.[5][6]

South of Hollywood, the line turned southwest through Opa-locka before turning back south through Hialeah. It crossed the Florida East Coast Railway's Little River Branch in Hialeah at a junction that would be named Iris Interlocking.[7] South of Hialeah, the line turned southeast along the Miami Canal toward downtown Miami. A passenger depot serving Miami was built at 2206 NW 7th Ave in the Allapattah neighborhood.[8][9][10] Track would continue beyond the passenger depot south and east into downtown. It crossed the FEC's main line near NW 11th Street and connected with the Miami Municipal Railway, which continued the line a short distance to the city docks at Miami's original port (located at the site of Museum Park).[11][12][13]

The Seaboard Air Line ran a number of intercity passenger services to Miami on the line including the Orange Blossom Special, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, the Sunland, the Palmland, and the Cross State Limited.[4]

At Hialeah Junction (located less than a mile south of the Hialeah station), a branch track was also built south over the Miami Canal, where Seaboard built a freight yard and maintenance shops. The branch crossed the canal on a bascule drawbridge and then turned west at a wye where it entered the yard.[14] By the end of 1927, the line was extended one last time from the yard southwest to Homestead.[15] Passenger service ran on the Homestead Subdivision up until 1929, when it was downgraded to a freight-only line.[16]

The original Hialeah yard and the Homestead Subdivision from the yard to Oleander originally ran though the middle of what is now Miami International Airport. The yard was located at the east end of the current Runway 8R/26L at the time.[17][18] Prior to 1949, the airport was actually two separate air fields on either side of the tracks, with Miami Army Airfield to the south and Pan American Field (later known as the 36th Street Airport) to the north. In 1949, the Dade County Port Authority merged the two air fields and was officially named Miami International Airport. The railroad still ran through the middle of the airport after the fields were merged. The tracks even crossed a runway and taxiway at grade and trains needed clearance from air traffic control to cross them.[19] In 1951, the Dade County Port Authority paid $3 million to relocate Seaboard's Hialeah yard to its current location north of Iris Interlocking and reroute the Homestead Subdivision to its current alignment between LeJeune Road and Oleander Junction along the Tamiami Canal and the south side of the airport.[18][20]

In 1958, two large cement plants were built just west of Miami and the Seaboard built spurs from the Homestead Subdivision to serve both plants. One spur was built from Oleander Junction west through Doral and Sweetwater to serve the plant built by the Lehigh Portland Cement Company. The other spur ran from Sterling to the plant built by the General Portland Cement Company (GPC) located at Krome Avenue and Kendall Drive.[21][22]

By 1964, Miami's original port was largely replaced by PortMiami on Dodge Island. Tracks east of the station to the original port would eventually be removed.[13]

In 1963, the line began hosting the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's Miami-bound passenger trains. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was the Seaboard Air Line's main competitor in Central Florida and the West Coast of the state. This arrangement was quickly made due to the abrupt discontinuation of passenger service on the Florida East Coast Railway, who previously handled the Atlantic Coast Line's Miami trains. By then, merger talks were underway between the Atlantic Coast Line and the Seaboard Air Line. The merger would be complete by 1967 and the new combined company would be named the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.[23]

In 1971, all of the Seaboard Coast Line's intercity passenger service was taken over by Amtrak who still operate to Miami on the line today.[14] In the 1970s, Interstate 95 was built through South Florida, which was mostly built beside the Seaboard tracks between West Palm Beach and Golden Glades.[24] Interstate 595 was completed in 1991 and the line was realigned slightly at the former Port Everglades Junction to accommodate the interchange between I-95 and I-595.[5][25]

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.[14]

In 1983, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was looking to start temporary commuter rail service between West Palm Beach and Miami while construction crews widened Interstate 95 and Florida's Turnpike.[26][27] The state's original plan was to use the more urban Florida East Coast Railway for the service, but FEC declined to grant access to its line as they wanted freight to be their top priority.[28] CSX on the other hand was going through a corporate restructuring in 1985 and was seeking to sell or abandon some of its lines.[20] CSX sold the line from West Palm Beach to Miami Airport in May 1988 to FDOT for $264 million.[14] Since the sale to FDOT, the line has been officially known as the South Florida Rail Corridor.

Current operations[edit]

South Florida Rail Corridor[edit]

Tri-Rail train on the former Seaboard-All Florida Railway in 2011

Tri-Rail service began on the South Florida Rail Corridor in January 1989. While initially intended to be temporary, it eventually became a permanent service. CSX continued to maintain and provide dispatching for the line up until 2015, when FDOT took over those responsibilities.[29][7] Tri-Rail extended service south to a new station at Miami Airport located at the end of the wye south of the Miami Canal in 1998. This was the first passenger service south of the Miami Canal since passenger service was discontinued on the Homestead Subdivision in 1929. FDOT completed double-tracking the line from West Palm Beach to Hialeah in 2006.[30] Amtrak continues to operate the Silver Meteor and Silver Star service from New York City to Miami over the line, both of which are former Seaboard passenger services. Today, the original 1920s Seaboard stations are used by Amtrak and Tri-Rail for service at West Palm Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. Though no longer in use, the Seaboard stations at Delray Beach, Opa-locka, and Hialeah are still standing.

Hialeah yard is still used by CSX, and it also contains a car maintenance facility and locomotive shop for both Amtrak and Tri-Rail. Amtrak's current Miami station, which replaced the original Seaboard Miami depot in Allapattah in 1978, is located at the south end of the yard.[31]

CSX continues to have freight trackage rights on the South Florida Rail Corridor. The original southern end of the line from Hialeah Junction to Downtown Miami is still used by CSX and is now the Downtown Lead.

Homestead Subdivision[edit]

A CSX train on the Homestead Subdivision at the Bird Road grade crossing.
A CSX train on the Homestead Subdivision at the Bird Road grade crossing.

CSX still owns the Homestead Subdivision, which is the southernmost trackage of the entire CSX network.[7]

The northern half of the Homestead Subdivision parallels the Don Shula Expressway today. The Lehigh Spur and GPC Spur are also still in service. The GPC Spur still serves the Cemex facility (GPC's former facility) in western Miami-Dade County as well as a Conrad Yelvington plant.[32]

The southern half of the line only sees sporadic freight service, and the southernmost 12 miles of the line (south of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum) has been out of service since March 2019.[33] The Seaboard's Homestead depot is still standing.

There have been proposals in the past to extend Tri-Rail commuter service down the line to Homestead but the idea has yet to make it past the proposal stage.[34] As of 2023, efforts are once again underway to extend Tri-Rail to Homestead.[35]

Historic stations[edit]

Milepost[36][37] City Station[4] Image Connections and notes

East Coast Main Line
(Miami Subdivision)

SX 969.9 West Palm Beach West Palm Beach continues from Florida Western and Northern Railroad (SAL)
SX 976.5 Lake Worth Beach Lake Worth
SX 980.8 Hypoluxo
SX 983.0 Boynton Beach Boynton
SX 987.5 Delray Beach Delray
SX 991.1 Boca Raton Yamato
SX 998.3 Deerfield Beach Deerfield
SX 1004.0 Pompano Beach Pompano
SX 1011.1 Carmen
SX 1012.3 Fort Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale
SX 1015.3 Port Everglades Junction junction with Port Everglades Belt Line Railroad
SX 1016.4 Dania Beach Dania
SX 1019.7 Hollywood Hollywood
SX 1021.1 Hallandale Beach Hallandale
SX 1025.7 Uleta also known as Miami Plantation
SX 1030.0 Opa-Locka Opa-Locka
SX 1034.2 Hialeah Iris junction with Florida East Coast Railway Little River Branch
SX 1036.3 Hialeah
SX 1036.5 Hialeah Junction junction with Homestead Subdivision
SXD 1040.0 Miami Miami replaced by current Miami station in 1977

Homestead Subdivision

SX 1037.2 Hialeah Junction junction with Miami Subdivision
SXH 1041.1 Oleander junction with Florida East Coast Railway Little River Branch
SXH 1043.3 Coral Gables Coral Gables
SXH 1047.0 South Miami South Miami
SXH 1053.0 Sterling
SXH 1055.5 Richmond West Richmond
SXH 1058.7 Aladdin City
SXH 1062.8 Redland
SXH 1066.4 Homestead Homestead

West Coast[edit]

Map of West Coast Line as it appeared in 1927 (click to enlarge)

Route and history[edit]

The Seaboard All-Florida Railway's west coast route began at Hull (just northeast of Fort Ogden). It branched off of the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway which Seaboard acquired in 1926. From Hull, it ran directly south in a nearly straight trajectory to Fort Myers. It crossed the Atlantic Coast Line's Lakeland—Fort Myers Line twice en route to Fort Myers: once in Fort Ogden and once at Gilchrist (just northeast of North Fort Myers). The line connected with a logging railroad operated by the Dowling and Camp Lumber Company near Slater.[38] As the line approached Fort Myers, it crossed the Caloosahatchee River on a long drawbridge just downstream of the original Tamiami Trail Bridge. The pier at Riverside Park in East Fort Myers is located where the bridge crossed the river.

In Fort Myers, the passenger depot was located just south of the river at the intersection of Palm Beach Boulevard and East Riverside Drive. Henry Ford, a seasonal Fort Myers resident, used the station to reach his winter home (the Edison and Ford Winter Estates) on McGregor Boulevard.[39] Just south of the passenger depot, a separate freight depot was built along Michigan Avenue. From there, the line continued south out of the city along Palm Avenue and the west side of the Ten Mile Canal, closely paralleling the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (which is operated today by Seminole Gulf Railway) on the other side of the canal.

At Mullock Creek, another subsidiary, the Naples, Seaboard, and Gulf Railway, continued the line the rest of the way to Naples. From the creek, it headed southeast through Estero (just west of the Koreshan Unity Settlement) to Bonita Springs.[40] In Bonita Springs, it turned south again before crossing the Imperial River. A passenger depot existed on the south side of Bonita Beach Road (near the site of First Presbyterian Church).[2] The line then joined the current route of Goodlette-Frank Road near Vanderbilt Beach and headed into downtown Naples, terminating at the Naples passenger depot on Fifth Avenue South. President Warfield had hoped to build a deep-water port in Naples, which was never built.

In addition to the main route, two branches existed from Fort Myers to LaBelle and Punta Rassa. The thirty-mile LaBelle branch began just south of the Fort Myers freight depot and ran just south of Michigan Avenue before turning northeast and continuing just south of and parallel to State Road 80. It terminated in downtown LaBelle at a depot at Main Street and Seminole Avenue.[41] In the 1940s, a seven-mile spur was built from the LaBelle branch southeast to Buckingham Army Airfield.[42] The 8-mile Punta Rassa branch departed the main line just south of Fort Myers near the Six Mile Cypress Slough. Despite its name, the branch never fully reached Punta Rassa, where President Warfield had also hoped to establish a deep-water port. It actually terminated in Truckland near Iona, just two miles short of Punta Rassa. The branch ran from the main route west along the current route of Six Mile Cypress Parkway, through the center of today's Lakes Park (south of and parallel to the park's scenic boardwalk), then southwest along the current routes of Summerlin Road and Pine Ridge Road before turning back north slightly to its terminus at McGregor Boulevard in Truckland. The Punta Rassa branch ended up mostly serving agricultural land and gladiolus fields near Biggar.[43] Power transmission line easements run on some of the former right of way of both the Labelle and Punta Rassa Branches.[44]

When the line and branches were complete, the Seaboard Air Line designated them as the Fort Myers Subdivision, LaBelle Subdivision, and Punta Rassa Subdivision.[45] After opening, the Seaboard's Orange Blossom Special and West Coast Limited provided daily passenger service down the west coast.[46] Mixed train service (both passenger cars and freight combined) was offered from Fort Myers to LaBelle.

Decline and abandonment[edit]

Remaining wooden pilings for the Seaboard Air Line's bridge over the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida

Unlike the east coast route, the west coast route was not as successful and would exist for less than thirty years. The Seaboard Air Line went bankrupt in 1930 after the collapse of the land boom and in 1931, service to Fort Myers and Naples was reduced to a mixed train that operated three days a week. In 1933, only six years after the line opened, passenger service was discontinued entirely on the West Coast. By 1942, the line was abandoned south of Punta Rassa Junction (located at present-day Six Mile Cypress Parkway's crossing of the Ten Mile Canal in South Fort Myers). The southernmost seven miles of the right of way from Vanderbilt to downtown Naples and the Naples depot ended up being sold to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The Atlantic Coast Line subsequently abandoned their branch to Marco Island south of Vanderbilt and extended the remaining line down the former Seaboard right of way to the passenger depot. This segment would remain in freight service until 1979.[20]

Former right of way of the West Coast route within the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area in southern Charlotte County. It is now a dirt trail named "Seaboard Grade". The concrete footings to the right are remnants of a water tower for steam locomotives.

The rest of the west coast SAL route was abandoned and removed by 1952. The Atlantic Coast Line later reconstructed the first mile and a half of the Punta Rassa branch from their main line in the 1960s to briefly serve a rock mine just east of the Tamiami Trail (US 41) (site of Lakes Park).

Some of the former right of way is now an unpaved trail called "Seaboard Grade" through the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area in southeastern Charlotte County. The foundation of one of the railroad's water towers still stands along Seaboard Grade just north of Tucker's Grade.[47] In Fort Myers, Seaboard Street and Palm Avenue run along the former right of way. The John Yarbrough Linear Park runs close to the line's former right of way next to the Ten Mile Canal south of Fort Myers. A FPL transmission line runs on most of the former route from Mullock Creek to Vanderbilt Beach, and Goodlette-Frank Road still run the rest of the right of way from there to downtown Naples.[40][48]

Today, the Naples passenger depot on Fifth Avenue South is still standing and it is now the Naples Depot Museum. The Fort Myers passenger depot most recently housed the Reilly Brothers Construction company but the building was demolished in August 2020.[39] The Fort Myers freight depot and yard on Michigan Avenue most recently housed Gully's Discount Store Fixtures but it was demolished in early 2023.[49] An apartment complex named "Seaboard Waterside Apartments" is planned to be built on the site of the former freight yard.[50] Along the former Punta Rassa Branch, the former San Carlos freight building (on Pine Ridge Road near San Carlos Boulevard) is now an antique shop. The Biggar freight depot, which was located on the southeast corner of Summerlin Road and Gladiolus Drive in later years, operated as a produce stand named Nancy's Produce until 2006. It was subsequently demolished to make room for the construction of overpasses at that intersection.[51]

Historic Stations[edit]

Former SAL passenger depot in Fort Myers as seen before its demolition in 2020
Former SAL freight depot in Fort Myers as seen before its demolition in 2023
Former Naples depot, which is nearly identical to the Hialeah depot
Milepost[45] City/Location Station Connections and notes

West Coast Main Line
(Fort Myers Subdivision)

VC 893.4 Hull junction with Seaboard Air Line Railroad Boca Grande Subdivision
VC 894.7 Fort Ogden junction with Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Lakeland—Fort Myers Line
VC 904.8 Saline
VC 916.7 Gilchrist junction with Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Lakeland—Fort Myers Line
VC 919.7 Tamiami
VC 923.2 Salvista
VC 925.6 Fort Myers Fort Myers Freight depot located half-mile south of passenger depot
junction with:
VC 934.3 Punta Rassa Junction junction with Punta Rassa Subdivision
VC 940.7 Estero
VC 948.8 Bonita Springs Bonita Springs
VC 953.7 Vanderbilt
VC 961.7 Naples Naples

LaBelle Subdivision

VO 925.6 Fort Myers Fort Myers junction with Fort Myers Subdivision
VO 936.2 Buckingham
VO 943.3 Alva
VO 945.5 Floweree
VO 955.1 LaBelle LaBelle

Punta Rassa Subdivision

VN 934.3 Punta Rassa Junction junction with Fort Myers Subdivision
VN 936.7 Biggar
VN 940.8 San Carlos building is now an antique shop
VN 942.7 Truckland


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