Boom time rail branches in Lee and Collier counties
|The rapid expansion of Southwest Florida railroads during the boom times of the 1920s produced additional branch lines that were often pulled up (mostly by the financially-strapped SAL) after the economic downturn of the Depression. The simplified map shows the SAL lines (in green) and ACL lines (in red) that existed in 1932.
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|In 1902, the ACL secured property in Ft. Myers for a depot and river wharf complex in 1902, and extended a line from Punta Gorda to Ft. Myers in 1903. In May of 1904, with the completion of a pagoda-like depot at Main and Monroe Streets, the ACL began regular passenger service to Ft. Myers. Through cars of the famous Seminole and Flamingo trains were carried to Ft. Myers starting in the mid-1920s. The depot building stood until the 1960s.
A new brick ACL depot was constructed in Arcadia in 1911, and a new Ft. Myers ACL depot was built on Peck Street in 1924.
Under charter of the ACL's new Ft. Myers Southern Railroad, a line was extended to Estero in October 1925. Construction of this line continued to Bonita Springs, Naples, and Collier City. Service to Naples began in December 1926 (but to the airport area, away from downtown.). Service to Collier City on Marco Island began in June 1927, but with mixed trains that ran slowly due to frequent freight stops.
The ACL had wanted to enter Naples in the business district but the right of way had just been purchased by the Seaboard Air Line Railway, which also had ambitions for southward expansion.
After president S. Davies Warfield took majority control of the SAL in 1912, the company began to plan aggressive route expansions in Florida, especially after the First World War ended in 1918. By 1925, SAL subsidiary Seaboard All-Florida Railway had started building a line from Ft. Ogden to Ft. Myers. The map shows (green line) that the SAL crossed the ACL's Lakeland-Ft. Myers line in two places: at Ft. Ogden and then again at Gilchrist.
In 1926, SAL subsidiary Naples, Seaboard & Gulf Railway began building a line between Ft. Myers and Naples, with branches to Punta Rassa and LaBelle. The N S & G Railway completed a handsome Naples depot in January 1927, and began service with a grand opening. The first SAL train reached LaBelle in March of 1927.
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railway signed an agreement for the SAL to lease the line to Boca Grande (causing the SAL to lose interest in their new East & West Coast line). But the Interstate Commerce Commission's delayed approval made the SAL wait a few years before finalizing the deal.
Following the October 24, 1927 death of SAL president S. Davies Warfield, new SAL expansions were halted. Burdened by enormous borrowing, debt and depression-era business losses, the SAL went into receivership in 1930.
To further save money, service to Ft. Myers was reduced to a 3-day a week mixed train in June of 1931, the SAL withdrew Ft. Myers-Naples service in 1933, and parts of the Ft. Myers-Naples extension were abandoned in 1952. Parts of the Punta Rassa line were also pulled up, and thirteen miles of the SAL LaBelle subdivision were scrapped.
SAL's former Naples Seaboard & Gulf railroad was abandoned in 1943. The former SAL line to downtown Naples and the former SAL depot there were sold to the ACL in 1944.
In 1946, the SAL Railway finally emerged from receivership as the SAL Railroad. The last of the SAL assets in the Ft. Myers area were abandoned in November of 1952, including the LaBelle division and all other tracks south of Ft. Ogden. On April 25,1959, the SAL withdrew passenger service from Boca Grande.
A newer Punta Gorda ACL depot was also built at Taylor Street in Punta Gorda in 1928. During the Depression years of the 1930s, ACL maintained southwest Florida service, but kept business expenses at a minimum until business started to come back in the early 1940s. ACL business peaked in southwest Florida in 1942, then started a long slide. Some spur tracks along the riverfront in Ft. Myers were pulled up. In 1944, ACL acquired the ex-SAL line to downtown Naples and also the ex-SAL depot there. The old ACL depot at the airport was demolished, and service to Marco Island was abandoned.
By 1957, more track was being abandoned as the last of the cypress trees were being harvested. The last ACL mixed trains ran between Fort Myers and Naples in November 1957. In 1958, after merger talks began with the SAL, the ACL sold off its main downtown Ft. Myers properties. The ACL also began abandoning parts of their Haines City branch in 1958, starting with segments of the line near Everglades City and then all the way back to Sunniland.
By July 1960 in anticipation of the merger with the SAL, the ACL opened a 40-acre yard complex south of downtown Ft. Myers, but the merger was delayed on legal challenges. The merger to form the Seaboard Coast Line was finally approved in July 1967, and consolidation of operations soon followed.
During the years 1967 to 1971, the ex-SAL Doodlebug was often seen handling the SCL passenger run to Naples from Lakeland. But passenger service to Punta Gorda, Ft Myers, and Naples ended on May 1, 1971 after Amtrak decided to service major routes only.
By the late 1970s, the SCL petitioned the ICC to remove some lines in southwest Florida. With phosphate traffic mainly going to the new Rockport facility near Tampa, the phosphate port of South Boca Grande was abandoned, and tracks were taken up.
SCL sold its Ft. Myers depot and downtown land parcels in 1975, replaced the Caloosahatchee River drawbridge in 1977, and received authority to remove tracks from Naples to near Immokalee Rd on 1979. The SCL continued its freight operations as it gradually evolved into the CSX.
The short line Seminole Gulf Railway took over some former CSX track south of Arcadia in 1988.
See more images of the Railroad Lines South to Ft. Myers and Naples,
1. The ACL line shown extended to Southfort from Sarasota mainly carried freight.
2. An ACL line is also shown extended from Haines City to Everglades City.
Turner, Gregg M., Railroads of Southwest Florida, Arcadia Publishing, 1999
Tampa Bay Lines South