Atlanta: Always A Railway Town At Heart

A view of the freight rail running through downtown Atlanta, as seen from a passing MARTA train.


In September 2015, WABE sent our reporters out to find out one thing: “What defines Atlanta, exactly? Do we have a unique identity?” You can read the rest of the stories here.

Atlanta is where it is because of trains.

In 1837, two engineers for the Western and Atlantic Railroad were looking for a spot on the Eastern Continental Divide to end a new rail line. They drove a stake in the ground, and it was from that point that the settlement of Terminus, which would become Atlanta, sprawled outwards.

That zero-mile post, a big chunk of marble, is still there today. But it’s locked away, in an out-of-use brick building in the basement of a downtown parking deck next to Underground Atlanta. This seems like a fitting metaphor for a city now known more for its airport and congested highways than its rail lines.

But Atlanta’s train legacy is having a train-less Renaissance. The old rail lines that once circled Atlanta are becoming the Atlanta BeltLine. Much like the train tracks of the past, the BeltLine, which is the latest step in the city’s evolution, keeps Atlanta moving from just a point on the map and a stake in the ground.