Endpoints: Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg, Florida
Numbers: 90/93 (Penn Central) 15/16 (L&N) 12-5-15/16-6-11 (SCL)
Host Railroads: Penn Central, Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line
Amtrak Operated: May 1, 1971 to November 13, 1971
Named for: A pre-Amtrak train of the same name that operated over much the same route.
Pre-Amtrak History: The South Wind was one of three all coach streamliners operated by various railroads between Chicago and Florida with each train operating every third day. The trains were inaugurated in December 1940 for the winter season but their popularity prompted the railroads to operate them year-round.
The South Wind departed Chicago on Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and was a running mate with the City of Miami of the Illinois Central and Dixie Flager of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois. Starting in April 1949, the South Wind received sleepers. It began operating every other day in late 1957, a pattern that would continue until the coming of Amtrak.
No single Chicago-Florida train reached the sunshine state over one railroad and most Midwest-Florida service ended in the 1950s. The South Wind and City of Miami continued to carry impressive passenger loads through the 1960s.
Penn Central pulled out of the South Wind pool in November 1969, but continued to operate an every-other-day train that was scheduled to connect with the South Wind in Louisville, Kentucky. Citing high financial losses, Penn Central sought to end the connecting train in 1970, but the Interstate Commerce Commission turned that bid aside.
That left the City of Miami as the last through train between the Midwest and Florida. In the meantime, the South Wind continued to operate much as it always had over the L&N and Seaboard Coast Line, but now originated in Louisville.
Amtrak History: Amtrak planners included a Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg route in the initial basic route network. They chose to keep the South Wind and make it a daily train between Chicago and Florida. However, Amtrak re-routed the train between Chicago and Indianapolis to use the Illinois Central/Penn Central route that was also used by the Chicago-Cincinnati James Whitcomb Riley, which Amtrak also kept.
Some critics argued that the South Wind should have been routed via Atlanta, but Amtrak cited operational issues for not doing that, including a top speed of 40 miles per hour between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The South Wind could have reached Atlanta from Birmingham, Alabama, but that would have necessitated either building a station in Atlanta or making a long backup move to Peachtree Station of the Southern. As it turned out, the Southern stayed out of Amtrak.
The South Wind name lasted in Amtrak timetables for just over six months. With the Nov. 14, 1971, timetable change, Amtrak discontinued use of a handful of traditional railroad passenger train names because they had taken on negative connotations in the years immediately preceding Amtrak’s inauguration.
The South Wind route had been rendered moribund by years of neglect and Amtrak sought a new face for a route that would prove difficult to manage. That name, Floridian, gave a sense of where the train went and had no historic ties to Midwest-Florida passenger train service. Seaboard Air Line had operated a train named Floridian between Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg in the middle 1920. The Illinois Central had operated a train with a similar name, Floridan, that had been gone for two decades by the time Amtrak arrived.