Railroads of the Atlanta Belt Line

In the 37 years between 1871 and 1908, Atlanta saw construction of the rail lines that will form Atlanta’s BeltLine when it is complete in 2030. Encircling downtown, the BeltLine was originally built in segments--some main line track, some belt lines proper.  While much of the rail corridor is abandoned, descendants of the original railroads continue to operate in and around the city.

From Atlanta’s inception as the southern terminal of the state-owned Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1837, followed by the arrival of Georgia Railroad in 1845 and the Macon & Western Railroad in 1846--spokes to the BeltLine's "wheel"--railroads provided the impetus to its industrialization and urbanization. Railroads overcame problems of geography, shortened delivery times and increased route flexibility. Perhaps most importantly, the prospect of profits from railroad revenues attracted Northern and foreign capital to a region that possessed few resources at the end of the Civil War.

Railroads of the Atlanta Belt Line looks at the belt lines built around Atlanta during a time when railroad development was at its peak—rail mileage doubled between 1865 and 1880, then tripled in the next ten years. During the same period, Atlanta’s population increased from 21,789 in 1879 to 65,533 by 1890. Twenty years later, the city’s population was 154, 872. This 611 percent increase in 40 years was surely facilitated by the new ease with which one could travel from the north, east, south and west to arrive in the capital of the New South.


Curated by Susan E. Prillaman