in 1896, the Seaboard Air Line controlled routes from New Orleans through Virginia to Portsmouth - but not to Washington, DC
Source: Library of Congress, Map of the Seaboard Air Line and its principal connections north, south, east & west, 1896 (Rand McNally and Company)
The Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad acquired control of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad. Their operations, on track that stretched from the South Carolina border to Portsmouth, were synchronized and marketed as the Seaboard Air-Line by 1881.
Other railroads also joined in advertising coordinated service, including the Roanoke & Tar River Railroad. A corporate reorganization in 1900 officialy created the Seaboard Air Line Railway. A 1946 reorganization changed the corporate name to Seaboard Air Line Railroad.1
The inland competitor to the Seaboard Air Line was the Piedmont Air Line. The Richmond & Danville Railroad partnered with other lines in North Carolina and Georgia to advertise a coordinated route between Richmond and Atlanta. The Southern Railway maintained the marketing after acquiring control of the inland route in 1894.2
Organizing multiple railroads to offer through freight service was a challenge. After John Robinson died in 1893, John Skelton Williams became the primary leader of the effort. He was willing to bargain hard.
Until 1900, the Atlantic Coast Line was unwilling to offer acceptable rates for forwarding freight from the Seaboard Air Line north to Washington DC. The Atlantic Coast Line controlled the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P) Railroad, and the charter for that line gave it a monopoly between Richmond and Washington.
However, the General Assembly had the authority to ignore the charter. John Skelton Williams lobbied effectively, and in 1900 the state authorized construction of a competing railroad parallel to the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. The Atlantic Coast Line quickly concluded negotiations with the Seaboard Air Line to forward freight, and no second railroad was constructed.3