Infromations about Florida passenger trains : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

I'm a railfan from Portugal and have as a passtime to produce would-be passenger train schedules in North American railroads.

I've recently done a Florida Corridor schedule plan that comprises the use of both the SAL and ACL lines, wich are designated as Corridors with separate boards from New York to Jakcsonville.

What I would like to know is; 1 - What was the top speed allowed by the railroads mentioned above for their passenger trains. 2 - Details about operating practices, and all related with this subject. Many thanks for your attention

-- Mario Vieira (, March 10, 2000


Further ramblings on the speed issue. Harry Bundy referrred to the 1953 accident at Fleming GA. The ICC Report has some interesting background to the speed issue. It seems that one of the trains involved, ACL Train #8, had been operated for a distance of 10 miles at a speed of 96 miles per hour. The ICC then did a check of speed recorder tapes and dispatcher's records of the movement of trains between Jesup and Savannah for a three month period between December 1, 1952 and February 28, 1953. It seems that 507 passenger trains exceeded a speed of 90 mph for distances varying from 3 to 42 miles, and 47 trains exceeded speeds of 100 miles per hour. They cited cases where trains operated at 108 mph for 10 miles and 100 mph for 25 miles, and lastly, a train which was operated at 99 mph for 42 miles. All of this on a stretch of track limited to 79 mph by the ACL resulting from the ICC's June 17, 1947 order limiting speeds over 80 mph to lines equipped with train stop, train control or continuous cab signals.

At this time, ACL had started installation of an automatic train stop system between Florence and Jacksonville, but had completed only 79 miles between Florence and Mt. Holly.

ICC had stated that had the train been operated in accordance with the speed limits, the accident might have been averted or its disastrous consequences reduced.

So-it seems as if the ACL had a unofficial policy of letting trains exceed the speed limit. Of course, today, such a practice would have resulted in the wrath of God descending upon the railroad in terms of FRA investigators, significant fines, etc.

It appears that the ACL speed up its installation of the automatic train stop to support the 1955 speed up mentioned by Larry Goolsby. The ICC complained that the ACL started in 1952, but was scheduled to complete in 1957.

As for Joe Oates' statement about SAL engineers letting it rip between Wildwood and West Palm Beach, I remember several times in the 1960's on the Silver Meteor clocking the train at close to 100- despite the entire line having a speed limit of 79 mph-again per the ICC ruling of 1947.

So-is there a conclusion? Pre 1947-railroad speed limits were generally higher-say in the range of 85-90, with some engines being limited to lower speeds. Diesels could and did easily operate at or above 100 mph, but usually below their maximum speed of 117 mph. After 1947, speed limits in areas without train control, cab signal or automatic train stop were limited to 79 mph. Those areas with such appliances had limits of 90-100. Did trains exceed the speed limits? They did on a regular basis, and for a good period with the concurrence of management.

-- Michael W. Savchak (Savchak, May 22, 2000.

I've heard stories of 100 MPH plus on the SAL from Okeechobee to WPB both with Mountians and E4's.No stops,just open the throttle and le'r eat!

-- J.Oates (, May 18, 2000.

I find the story about the Meteor being operated at speeds of 120 on a regular basis somewhat hard to believe. The E-4 and E-6 units had gearing which permitted maximum speeds of 117 mph. This however was an ideal condition-rarely achieved under typical railroad operating conditions. Once you start getting near the top end of a locomotive's speed you find that getting each additional mile faster takes more and more effort. The slightest adverse grade, and you lose the precious mile it took you several minutes to gain. I can vouch for this from personal experience during high speed testing of the new catenary system where we tried to reach 110 mph but managed to get 107 with difficulty. True, the equipment was different, but physics is the same.

Remember, once you were going near or at 100 in an early E-unit, the noise, rocking motion, and the general exhilaration led many engineers to have their "mental" speedometer exceed their actual unit! Doing 100 mph on jointed 100 lb rail is not an experience I would like to face on a regular basis!

-- Michael W. Savchak (Savchak, May 18, 2000.

Check out Robert West's art site at The caption for his painting called "Central Florida Crossing II" has an interesting story of a retired SAL engineer who told him how he regularly pulled the Meteor at speeds up to 120! May be just an old retired entineer's tale but is sounds good!. Robert related this story to me in person once when we were talking at one of his art exhibits.

-- Jim Coviello (, May 17, 2000.

In the January 17, 1953 rear-end collision that destroyed ACL engine 500, the speed tapes were pulled and it was determined that in the 14 miles Walthour- ville to the collision (at Fleming, Ga.) No. 8 main- tained a speed of 95-96 MPH, or 17 MPH above the ICC- mandated 79 MPH. In this incident, No. 8 passed a STOP AND PROCEED signal and rear-ended Extra SOU 6237 North at 56 MPH.

-- Harry Bundy (, May 17, 2000.

In my ACL passenger service book I note that: "Between 1955 and 1957 ACL even allowed all-roller-bearing trains a 100 m.p.h. limit (bringing the Special and Champion down to 24 hours), but scaled back to 90 because of the high degree of maintenance necessary for such speeds." And from my 3rd quarter 1998 Lines South article on the R- 1s: "[After correcting the counterbalancing problem,] the engines speed limit was raised to 90 m.p.h., letting them operate as ACL had initially intended. As for how fast the R-1s could go in actual use, Mr. Wallace recalls hearing many reports of sprints at 100 m.p.h. and over."

-- Larry Goolsby (, May 17, 2000.

In doing research for some future articles, I had to look at various ICC reports from the early 1940's. At that time, the top authorized speed for ACL Pacific steam engines in the P5A class was 70 mph and the maximum speed for the E-6 diesels was 90mph. This was a railroad wide restriction as far as I know. The ICC imposed speed restrictions in 1947. Speeds in excess of 79mph were permitted only on those divisions of a railroad where there was a form of automatic train stop or speed control. Previously, in the 1920's, the ICC mandated that each major railroad equip at least one division with a form of cab signalling/speed control.

The basic effect of the 1947 ruling was the lowering of most railroad's maximum speed limits to 79 mph.

The scary thing about the high speeds in the late 1930's-1940's was that these speeds were regularly made on what today would be considered lightweight rail. Most of the ACL two track main line was jointed 100 lb rail-which was subject to fissuring. In fact, the ICC determined that in a one year period between September 1942 to August 1943, there were 1278 defective rails removed on the ACL alone. That works out to 3.5 defective rails per day! The worst wrecks on the ACL were due to broken rails-Buie NC and Stockton GA, while others such as at Hortense GA and Bellbluff Va resulted in equipment damage and loss of life. ACL started to replace the 100 lb rail in 1946.

On the FEC, they used 90 lb rail on their mainline and ran their trains at 90mph! They also had problems with fissuring and broken rails. They started to replace their 90 lb rail in the 1940's with 112 lb rail-some of which was also subject to breakage, as an accident in 1953 at Oak Hill testified to.

-- Michael W. Savchak (, May 17, 2000.

Concerning the top speeds, don't forget that ACL was allowed 99 mph on their double-track for a number of years. When I was a kid, I had two uncles who ran as engineers between Savannah and Jacksonville. They had many great stories to tell, many of them involving 100 mph trains! I'd love to hear from someone who remembers what years ACL was allowed to run 99... did it date back to the R1 (4-8-4's)?

-- Tom Alderman (, May 17, 2000.

Hi, Mario. I believe the top passenger-train speed allowed by the Interstate Commerce Commission on these routes was 79 miles an hour. For the kind of detailed information you're looking for regarding travel times and operating procedures, I would suggest three things. First, get some time tables for SAL and ACL--I have found some great bargains at for anywhere from two to ten dollars apiece (shipping charges are extra). Another item to look for on ebay is the Official Guide of the Railways, published every month since the 1800's--this includes information on every railroad in the United States, all the trains they ran, schedules, equipment, etc. Finally, for a great, very detailed book on SAL/ACL Florida passenger trains, I highly recommend "By Streamliner to Florida," by Joseph M. Welsh (Andover Junction Publications, Andover, New Jersey, 1994). It is a beautiful book with many pictures and is still in print--no doubt available through or other online book stores. Hope this helps--good luck.

-- Bill Crockett (, May 13, 2000.

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