AT&N Railroad says Goodbye
When the stroke of midnight ushered in the New Year 1971, it also sounded an end to the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railroad, affectionately known throughout the Frisco and west Alabama as the AT&N.
On that momentous occasion, the line that began with John T. Cochrane and the Carrollton Short Line in 1900, vanished into the pages of history and officially became part of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway System. Although the line had been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Frisco since 1948, it had retained its separate identity, the one that had seen the growth and development of west Alabama, and the development of many of the cities served by the line.
As was often the case in the story of American railroads during their development era, the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railroad grew gradually; a gathering of a series of short lines through acquisitions and through additions. Today, its trackage serves as one of Frisco's two routes to the sea and is a major link in thee Frisco nine-state system.
The AT&N got its beginning when 25 year old John T. Cochrane built the Carrollton Short Line from Reform to Carrollton, Alabama. The distance of the route was 10 miles.
John T. Cochrane, Jr., who makes his home in Mobile, was born that year. "My father first became interested in railroading while attending the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa." relates Mr. Cochrane. "He built and ran a small dummy line for one of the promoters of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Several years later, when he wsa offered a chance to build a 10 mile line of his own, he jumped at it".
Two years after its completion, young Cochrane extended the line 11 miles to a community known as Aliceville. This community was later to serve as the junction point for the Frisco with the AT&N. At the time of the extension, Aliceville was then a spot in the swamp. Records indicate that upon completion of right-of-way construction, section gangs pushed an old box car off the track into the swamp, painted a sign and christened the spot Aliceville in homor of Mrs. Cochrane.
In 1904 Mr. Cochrane set his eyes on Mobile. There he negotiated the purchase of the Tombigbee and Northern Railroad, a narrow gauge logging line running north from Calvert, Alabama for approximately 20 miles. He rebuilt the railroad to stand gauge and rechristened it the Tombigbee Valley Railroad.
During ensuring years, Mr. Cochrane constructed additions to this line leading northward. At the same time construction began along rights-of-way poiinting south from Aliceville on the CArrollton Short Line. In 1912 the two lines met at Riderwood, Alabama (known at the time as Little John after John T., Jr.) and at that point the properties were joined under the name of the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railroad. Mr. Cochrane assumed the position of president.
While serving an important industrial and agricultural segment of hte State of Alabama, the AT&N line was still 30 miles removed from the Port of Mobile and the important and valuable ocean traffic there to be undertaken. Recognizing the value of the port, Mr. Cochrane in 1926 initiated construction southward from Calvert toward Mobile.
At the same time Frisco, recognizing the value of a Gulf of Mexico port, was constructing a line from Columbus, Mississippi, into Pensacola, Florida. That line crossed the AT&N at Aliceville. Since a working connection with the AT&N would provide Frisco with access to the Alabama State Docks in Mobile and, conversely, provide the AT&N with access to major midwest markets, a reciprocal traffic agreement was entered into between the two lines on February 1, 1928 - one month after comletion of the Mobile route.
In the early 1930's the AT&N established a railroad car ferry and related track facilites to serve newly-established refining industries on Blakely Island, situated across Mobile River from the docks. At the beginning of World War II, AT&N traffic was extended southward on Blakely Island to serve added industires, a number of which were in receipt of extensive governemtn ship building contracts.
John T. Cochrane remained at the helm of the AT&N until his death in 1938. At that point his son John T. Jr., assumed the position and held it until 1946. At that time he disposed of his holdings in the line to a syndicate of investors who named Jack E. Gilliland president. Gilliland later was to become Frisco president and its currently chairman of the board.
In the meantime the AT&N link between the main lines of the Frisco and the Port of Mobile and its foreign car commerce grew in importance. Thus in December 1948, Frisco purchased control of the AT&N and with an eye toward traffic expansion, immediately began a rehabilitation and improvement program along the right-of-way. The entire route was ballasted; hundreds of thousand of new ties were inserted; heavier rail was laid, and many bridges were rebuilt or repaired.
This important link to the strategic Port of Mobile, where a very substantial contribution toward freight revenues is generated each month cannot be overstated.
While born in the heritage days of American railroading, the AT&N network and its employees, remains a viable and valuable part of the Frisco and the modern railroad scene.
This article appeared in the February 1971 Frisco's AllAboard magazine.