The Great Days of Rail Travel on the Florida East Coast
About the ExhibitionHenry Morrison FlaglerFEC Passenger Train ServiceFEC's Key West ExtensionReturn to Home



YouTube Video - The Great Days of Rail Travel on the Florida East Coast

Brief History of Florida East Coast Railway Passenger Train Service

Carrying of passengers by rail began on the first of the FEC’s predecessors, the St. Johns Railway, as early as 1858. The mule-powered tram line began service between Tocoi Landing on the St. Johns River and what was then known as New Augustine. Locomotive pulled passenger train service began on the FEC Railway’s predecessors as early as 1881, when the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax River Railway opened its line between its namesake cities.

Service on the FEC was, for the most part, of the highest order. In January 1888, the FEC inaugurated, in conjunction with several other railroad lines, the first-ever vestibuled and electrically lighted passenger train in American history, the fabled New York and Florida Special. Although summer service was cut back from its winter peak, the FEC maintained a high grade operation with most trains carrying coaches, dining and lounge cars and sleepers.

Beginning with the opening of the Key West Extension, on January 22, 1912, service was extended to Key West, with connections, via steamship to Havana, Cuba. During the winter of 1925-26 the railroad operated twelve regularly-scheduled trains in each direction between Jacksonville and Miami on a daily basis with most of them operating in multiple sections due to the crush of business brought about by the great Florida “boom” of the early to mid 1920s.

With the coming of the great Depression, however, business declined and although fewer trains were operated, the FEC never stopped innovating. For the 1935-36 season, in conjunction with partner Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the Florida All-Year Round Club of Colonel Henry Doherty, the FEC operated the only American passenger train—again, the Florida Special—to ever carry a swimming pool.

In December of 1939 the FEC ran its first streamlined, diesel-electric powered train, named for the road’s founder, Henry M. Flagler.  Streamlining continued and by the mid-1950s almost all FEC passenger service was diesel-operated and streamlined.

Through the years some of the most famous trains in the country have operated on the FEC, including the Florida Special, Miamian, Havana Special, Vacationer and East Coast Champion to and from the northeast as well as the Seminole, Floridian, Dixie Flyer, Dixie Flagler, South Wind and City of Miami to and from the Midwest. Pullman sleeping cars were operated to distant points including as far west as Colorado Springs and as far north as Quebec City, Canada.

The rebirth of passenger train service on America’s most exciting railroad is being looked forward to by travelers, the press and railroad buffs throughout the nation as All Aboard Florida and the FEC prepare to operate the first privately owned, run and managed passenger trains in the United States since the late 1970s.


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