Railroads & Locomotives Passenger Service City of Miami passenger train

City of Miami passenger train

By Mike Schafer | September 24, 2023

Carrier coordination was key for this Chicago-Miami service

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The City of Miami passenger train one of three coordinated services linking Chicago with Miami.


City of Miami passenger train
E6 4000 leads the Illinois Central’s Chicago-Miami City of Miami passenger train circa 1940. Classic Trains collection


There was a time — like, as recently as 1979 — there was direct rail passenger service between the Upper Midwest (notably Chicago) and Florida. This ended with several slashes of Amtrak routes as a result of budget strains. Back “in the day,” as we veterans like to say, one could hop aboard a number of Florida-bound trains at Chicago for a direct trip to a number of major cities — Indianapolis, Louisville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and, of course Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa/St. Petersburg. Yeah, you can still do some of that, but it takes three days and two nights and a change of trains at Philadelphia or Washington.


The City of Miami was one of a triumvirate of one-night-out Chicago-Miami streamliners, launched in December 1940. It shared the spotlight with Chicago & Eastern Illinois’ Dixie Flagler and Pennsylvania Railroad’s South Wind. All three had a morning departure from Chicago, arriving Miami in late afternoon the following day. A fast cleaning, restocking, and turnaround sent these trains back out of Miami in early evening for a evening arrival at Chicago the next day. The threesome’s operation was coordinated so that there was daily one-night-out Chicago-Miami service.


I’m drawing a bead on the City of Miami as it was the only one of that threesome to survive to the start of Amtrak in 1971. Well, there’s other reasons too: I grew up in Illinois Central land; the City of Miami grew to be the most popular of the three; and, finally, I’m a sucker for original City of Miami’s unique paint scheme — arguably the most eye-catching paint scheme ever introduced in North America’s streamliner era.


The original City of Miami passenger train was an all-coach train powered by an IC Electro-Motive E6 diesel locomotive sporting the sensational paint scheme. The Flagler and the South Wind were steam-powered upon their launches. Initially, all three Florida flyers were seasonal only, but their popularity soon made them year-round operations, and it wasn’t long before more coaches and, in 1949, Pullman-operated sleepers were added and IC had to ditch the train’s unique paint scheme in lieu of IC’s handsome brown/orange/yellow colors being used on the rest of IC’s passenger car fleet.


Drawing of people playing golf under palm trees
An undated Illinois Central advertisement for the City of Miami passenger train. Classic Trains collection

IC handled the City of Miami from Chicago to Birmingham, Ala., where Central of Georgia took over IC’s Florida-bound trains. At Albany, Ga., IC’s Florida trains were handed over to the Atlantic Coast Line, which relayed them to Jacksonville. From there south to Miami, Florida East Coast handled all three Chicago-Florida streamliners. (This permanently changed following the 1963 FEC strike and Seaboard Air Line began handling the City between Jacksonville and Miami.)


IC was long known for being pro-passenger, right into the 1960s. By this time, the City of Miami was also offering through-car service to the west coast of Florida. In the 1960s, IC upgraded the City of Miami with the addition of a Budd-built Vista-Dome sleeping car during winter operations. Two such cars were leased from the Burlington, which used them in North Coast Limitedservice, for which the winter was that train’s low season.


That the City of Miami passenger train did as well as it did defies some travel logic. The train served only two major enroute cities — Birmingham and Jacksonville — between Chicago and Miami/Tampa. Between the Dixie Flagler and South Wind, enroute major cities included Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Atlanta. No doubt that’s why Amtrak chose not to keep the City of Miami and instead revive through Chicago-Florida service following most of the original South Wind’s route.


Oh, about that snazzy original City of Miami paint scheme. It survives today! The train’s Bamboo Grove observation car is on display at the Wellington Station Condominium Foundation at Ormond Beach, Fla. When the owners learned of the car’s history, they had it repainted in the original City of Miami colors!


Streamlined passenger train crossing waterway on bridge
The northbound City of Miami passenger train departs its namesake city on Seaboard Air Line trackage. The train was diverted from the Florida East Coast following that road’s acrimonious January 1963 strike. Ken Ardinger photo
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