Southern Railway Finally Comes Home

Posted by David Lester
on Tuesday, November 13, 2018

As most Trains readers know, today’s Norfolk Southern was created in 1982 by the merger of Southern Railway and the Norfolk & Western.  Since Southern Railway's founding in 1894, right up to the Norfolk Southern merger in 1982, Southern maintained its executive headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Many years ago, someone asked one Southern executive why the railroad kept the base in D.C. rather than in Atlanta since Atlanta was already the operational headquarters.  This executive replied (paraphrasing here) “We would like to be close to our friends and customers in the South with headquarters in Atlanta – however, we can do more for our friends and customers in the South here in Washington, D.C.”  Being close to government regulatory agencies, Congress, and other influential players in D.C. was beneficial during a time when there was no internet, video conferencing, and regulation of the industry, particularly around rates and abandonments, was very tight.

With the recent announcement that Norfolk Southern will move its corporate headquarters from Norfolk to Atlanta, those of us with a particular enthusiasm for Southern and who live in the South, feel that, in some sense, Southern has finally come home.  A bit corny, perhaps, but certainly something for fans of the line that said “Look Ahead – Look South” to appreciate.  The fact that Southern no longer exists notwithstanding, knowing that what remains of the former Southern Railway System that is part of today’s Norfolk Southern (which is quite a lot) will be run from Atlanta warms the heart. 

 The new 750,000 square-foot headquarters will be between 3rd Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue in Midtown Atlanta.  The railroad cited Atlanta’s growth, good access to air transportation, and a large talent pool as part of its decision to move to Atlanta.  Norfolk Southern will pay for the construction of the new headquarters building with the proceeds of land sales located in an area of Atlanta referred to as “the Gulch,” which developed over time as Atlanta built streets above downtown railroad tracks to eliminate trains interfering with automobile and pedestrian traffic.  According to Norfolk Southern, the headquarters move to Atlanta was contingent on being able to sell a large amount of land in the 40-acre Gulch area, which is now nothing but a few railroad tracks and parking lots.  The railroad and many political leaders have been hoping that the Atlanta City Council would approve moving forward with the development, which they did by a narrow vote on November 5.


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