|Dates of operation||1880-1893|
The Lake Monroe and Orlando Railroad was organized in 1875 with a charter to build from the St. Johns River port of Sanford south to Orlando. The South Florida Railroad was incorporated on October 16, 1878, but was unable to obtain a charter until December 9, 1879, when it took over the charter of the Lake Monroe and Orlando, which was in danger of losing its land grants. The South Florida first ran on November 11, 1880, running the short distance between Sanford and Orlando. However the company had plans to continue to the Gulf of Mexico, reaching it at Tampa.
On May 4, 1883, Henry B. Plant and his Plant System (headed by the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway) bought 3/5 of the stock of the South Florida after an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Florida Southern Railway. Plant had made an agreement with the Florida Southern not to build the SF&W south of Gainesville or Palatka, the northern ends of the Florida Southern, but the existing South Florida was immune from this. Plant then made agreements with all the railroads building towards Tampa except for the Florida Transit and Peninsular Railroad. Specifically, the Florida Southern would not build any lines south of Pemberton's Ferry and Brooksville or north of Bartow, and the South Florida would build its Pemberton Ferry Branch between the two and assign trackage rights to the Florida Southern. The agreement with the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway specified that that company would only build north of Sanford; in both cases the South Florida would give up their rights to the territories given to the other companies. The JT&KW had already done some grading at Bartow and Tampa, and sold them to the South Florida.
Thus two railroads remained in a race towards Tampa - the South Florida and the Florida Transit and Peninsular Railroad. The South Florida managed to get there first, and obtained the best ports (now known as Port Tampa). The Tampa end opened on December 10, 1883, and on January 25, 1884 service began over the full line, built to narrow gauge. On February 20, 1886 the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway opened to Sanford, and the South Florida was converted to standard gauge on September 22.
In 1893 the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway (Plant System) directly acquired the South Florida. In 1902 the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad acquired the Plant System, and in 1967 the ACL merged into the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The line eventually passed to CSX, and now operates as part of one of its two main lines in the area, known as the "A" Line.
South Florida Railroad
(CSX A Line)
The Sanford and Indian River Railroad was chartered in 1881 to run from Sanford southeast to Oviedo and Lake Charm. The South Florida leased it in 1883, and it was standard gauged on September 21, 1886. Today, the route is still in service as CSX's Aloma Spur from Sanford to Winter Springs. The Cross Seminole Trail runs along the former right of way from Winter Springs to Oviedo.
The Apopka Branch was part of the original charter, running from Mayo on the mainline west to the Withlacoochee River via Apopka. The line was never opened by the South Florida, instead partially opening as the Apopka and Atlantic Railroad. It was never a success.
The St. Cloud and Sugar Belt Railway was incorporated in 1888 to connect Kissimmee to St. Cloud and Narcoossee. It was immediately operated by the South Florida, and was merged into it in 1893. Neptune Road runs along some of the former right of way.
The charter specified that the railroad must pass through Bartow; thus the Bartow Branch was built from the mainline at Lake Alfred (Bartow Junction) southwest to Bartow. It opened in 1884 and was standard gauged on September 23, 1886.
Part of the Bartow branch remains today from Winter Haven south to Gordonville (just northeast of Bartow). This segment is operated by the Florida Midland Railroad. The abandoned segment between Lake Alfred and Winter Haven is now the route of the Chain of Lakes Trail.
Part of the agreement worked out by Henry Plant between the South Florida and the Florida Southern Railway specified that the South Florida would build the north-south Pemberton Ferry Branch. This branch began at a junction with the Florida Southern at Pemberton Ferry (known today as Croom), running south-southeast across the mainline at Lakeland to Bartow. South of Bartow, the Florida Southern continued to Punta Gorda, using trackage rights over the branch. Once the Bone Valley phosphate district was discovered near Lakeland, pressure increased to standard-gauge the line, and that was done on August 7, 1891.
The branch is still in service from the mainline north to Lacoochee and south of the mainline to Eaton Park. The abandoned segment north of Lacoochee is now part of the Withlacoochee State Trail (which also continues up the abandoned extension to Inverness). The Fort Fraser Trail today runs along the former right-of way from Eaton Park south to Bartow.
The South Florida Railroad main line remains in service and is today the southernmost segment of CSX's A Line. CSX has further divided the South Florida Railroad segment of the A Line into the Sanford Subdivision from Sanford to Auburndale, the Carters Subdivision from Auburndale to South Lakeland, the Lakeland Subdivision from South Lakeland to Mango, and the Tampa Terminal Subdivision from Mango to Tampa Union Station. From Union Station south to the port, the line is known as the Port Tampa Spur.
The former Pemberton Ferry branch's segment north of the main line is still in service under CSX as far north as Lacoochee (just north of Dade City). The remaining line is predominantly CSX's Vitis Subdivision from Lakeland to Vitis Junction (the junction with the former Tampa and Thonotosassa Railroad). North of Vitis Junction, the line is part of the Wildwood Subdivision (which is currently considered to be part of the CSX S Line even though it is a short detour of an abandoned segment of the original S Line). The segment of the Pemberton Ferry branch south of the main line is now CSX's CH Subdivision which now ends near Eaton Park.
As of 2011, the Florida Department of Transportation owns the line north of Poinciana and operates the SunRail commuter rail service over that segment. CSX still runs freight on the SunRail segment though through freight trains have since been shifted to the S-Line. SunRail also uses the South Florida Railroad-built Church Street station in downtown Orlando.