Atlantic Coast Line Railroad

ACL's Champion. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was a product of numerous mergers of dozens of smaller lines in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. It began with the Wilmington & Raleigh Railroad (later renamed Wilmington & Weldon), constructed between 1834 and 1840 in northeastern North Carolina. After the Civil War, the railroad's owners acquired the Wilmington & Manchester which they quickly reorganized as the Wilmington, Columbia & Augusta. In 1871, they began using the name Atlantic Coast Line as a marketing name for the two lines.

Other lines in the Carolinas and Virginia were acquired over the next quarter century and various joint ownership and partnership agreements were established, some long-lasting and some not. A permanent connection to Augusta had become a problem, however, and it was not until 1897, when the stock of the Charleston & Western Carolina Railway was purchased, that Augusta came securely into the fold.

In 1897-98, the various South Carolina lines (not including the C&WC) were consolidated into a new company, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of South Carolina. On August 8, 1899, the ACL of SC acquired from the Central of Georgia its half-interest in the lease of the Georgia Railroad. This gave ACL connections to Atlanta and Macon.

Meanwhile, consolidation of ACL component railroad companies continued in North Carolina and Virginia. Although the owners had decided to bring all of their railroads into a single company, it was determined that a state-by-state approach to consolidation was necessary given the varying railroad regulations of each state. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of Virginia was established in early 1898 and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of North Carolina was given approval by the NC legislature the following year.

The most favorable regulatory climate was in Virginia, however, and ACL's owners chose that state as the base for the combined company. The consolidation was accomplished in early 1900 when the ACL of Virginia absorbed the other companies and dropped the Virginia part of its name to become the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company.

In 1902, ACL expanded into Georgia and Florida with the acquisition of the Plant System, a 2,235-mile network that had been built by Henry Plant over the previous two decades. Plant's key Georgia property was the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway, which he organized after purchasing the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad in 1879.

Also in 1902, ACL gained control of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, but allowed it to operate independently.

In 1903, ACL built a 10-mile branch line from Otisca, on the rail line between Climax and Chattahoochee in Georgia's far southwestern corner, to the little community of Amsterdam. The latter place was a center of shade-grown tobacco used in the making of cigars.

Atlantic Coast Line engine no. 601

ACL engine no. 601. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

ACL ten-wheeler built by Richmond Locomotive Works. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, January 1901).

ACL ten-wheeler built by Baldwin Locomotive Works. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, February 1904).

Pacific-type locomotive built by Baldwin for ACL. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, November 1911).

Baldwin built at least 15 of these 2-10-2 locomotives for the ACL. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, December 1925).

ACL bought the Florida Central Railroad, a 47-mile line between Thomasville, Georgia and Fanlew, Florida in 1914.

In 1928, ACL built a line from Perry, Florida to Drifton, near Monticello, Florida, the last link of the new "Perry Cut-off." This created a more direct route between Chicago and Florida's west coast, one which passed through Macon, Albany, and Thomasville, and the route followed by ACL's passenger train The Southland.

ACL's line from Perry, Florida to Thomasville, by way of Monticello, Florida, was completed in 1928.

ACL gained control of the Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast Railroad in 1926. It was merged into ACL in 1946. The AB&C added over 600 miles of track to ACL’s system and gave it routes to Atlanta and Birmingham.

ACL headquarters were moved from Wilmington, N.C. to Jacksonville, Fla. in 1961.

ACL merged with Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1967, nearly a decade after merger talks were announced, to form the Seaboard Coast Line.


Thomasville-Metcalf abandoned around 1914, after purchase of Florida Central.
Amsterdam-Otisca abandoned 1944.
Brunswick-Alma ( part of former Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast) abandoned 1953.
Fitzgerald-Moultrie (part of former Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast) abandoned 1960.
Climax-Chattahoochee (part of former Savannah, Florida & Western) abandoned 1984.
Pearson-Sylvester (part of former Brunswick and Western) abandoned 1985.

Above, ACL passenger train near Dothan, AL. (Tom Solomon Photographs, Dothan Landmarks Foundation, Inc. Records, RG030. Archives of Wiregrass History and Culture, Troy University Dothan Campus, Dothan, AL.)

Above, an old ACL bridge in east Albany.

Above, near Byromville.

Old ACL bridge at Junction City

Above, CSX 4747 and feathered friend race over ACL crossing of the former Central of Georgia at Junction City.

Above, ACL freight and passenger car summary as listed in The Official Railway Equipment Register, Volume 33. October 1917. Complete publication is online at Google Books.

Maps, Timetables, and Other Information:

1879 advertisement (128K)

1885 advertisement (143K)

1886 timetable (426K)

1895 map, entire system (1.5 MB)

1896 list of roads operated and officers (250K)

1904 map, Amsterdam line (131K)

1906 map at Florida Memory

1914 map, entire system (647K)

1918 timetable, Savannah, Waycross, Jacksonville (522K)

1918 timetable, Albany, Tifton, Thomasville, other (508K)

1923 map, entire system, at North Carolina Maps

1944 map, ACL in Georgia (74K)

1912 and 1950 maps, entire system, at University of Alabama Map Library

1947 map, Hortense - Brunswick (284K)

1953 map, Alma - Hortense (397K)

1953 map, Tifton - Moultrie (323K)

1953 map, Tifton - Fitzgerald (346K)

1954 map, Climax, GA - Chattahoochee, FL (441K)

1954 map, DuPont, GA - Live Oak, FL (197K)

1954 map, Thomasville, GA - Drifton, FL (242K)

Track profile, Chattahoochee River to Savannah (345K)

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, Waycross Yard

Several ACL lines converged at Waycross.

Railroad YMCA at Waycross

ACL sponsored this YMCA at Waycross, an example of a "Railroad Y."

More Information:

Atlantic Coast Line & Seaboard Air Line Railroads Historical Society 

Suggested Reading:

Howard Douglas Dozier. A History of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. 1920. Online at Internet Archive here.

Larry Goolsby. Atlantic Coast Line Passenger Service – The Postwar Years. Lynchburg, VA: TLC Publishing, 1999.

William E. Griffin, Jr. Atlantic Coast Line; Standard Railroad of the South. Lynchburg, VA: TLC Publishing, 2001.

Glenn Hoffman. (Richard E. Bussard, ed.) Building a Great Railroad; a History of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company. Published by CSX Corporation, 1998.

Richard E. Prince. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad; Steam Locomotives, Ships, and History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. Reprint. (Originally published by Richard E. Prince in Green River, Wyoming, 1966.)

The Story of the Atlantic Coast Line, 1830-1930. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company. Online at HathiTrust Digital Library here.

1908 ACL travel booklet, online here at Central Florida Memory. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey.

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