It was a high-tech economy 150 years ago

Published 6:28 pm Monday, April 26, 2004

By Staff
Arthur McLean Editor
The little train that could spurred the little town that sued.
Burlington, Iowa filed a lawsuit against the Burlington Santa Fe railroad for breach of contract – a near 150-year-old contract.
Over the past couple of years, the railroad has dramatically downsized its maintenance operation in Burlington, its namesake.
According to Associated Press reports, the railroad cut 350 jobs in the town that once lent its public land to the railroad.
The reports say the town was established by Congress and, and as part of the incorporation, 20 acres were set aside for public purposes. In 1858, the town let the railroad use the land for free so long as the railroad based its main maintenance facilities there.
Of course, in the ongoing search for cheaper ways of doing business, when the Burlington Railroad merged with the Santa Fe, maintenance jobs were moved out of this little Iowa town.
Now, the Burlington maintenance shop that employed hundreds of workers has only 44, according to the Associated Press.
In defense, the town sued the railroad for breach of contract. I have no idea where the suit will go, but we here in Atmore have seen the effects of a rail history and a changing economy ourselves.
For those who don't know the town's history, it might be easy to look at a map today and wonder why this town was built so far from the Interstate.
To many in my generation, we've always had the Interstate highway system, and I'm sure to even younger people, it seems like it was always there. Not true of course.
Once, the railroad was king of transportation, and little Atmore was put exactly where it needed to be to survive and thrive in the early part of this century.
Back then it was a new economy, and those were the equivalent of high-tech jobs.
The trains still come by, but their economic impact on Atmore, and many similar towns around the U.S. is a fraction of what it used to be.
Now, it's the Interstate that is the king of transportation within this country. Goods and people travel it by the millions each year.
Look at other towns where an Interstate or expanded highway bypass was built, and you'll see towns growing in the direction of those highways and businesses relocating away from their old rail centered roots toward the movement of traffic, people and money.
One day, the Interstates might be old news in a world where technology and economies are always evolving. But for now, the smart money, as it once was with the railroads, is now with the highways.
I'll give Burlington credit for thinking out of the box, my distaste for litigation notwithstanding.
It just goes to show that cities and towns need to be flexible to meet the ongoing challenges of economic development in an ever-changing world.
Arthur McLean is the Editor of the Atmore Advance. He can by reached by calling 368-2123, or by email:

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