Mar 25, 2023
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A Brief History of Time, Alabama and the L&N
Governor Kay Ivey signed an act this week that will establish year-round Daylight Saving Time, except that it won't take effect because of some Federal law that says that states cannot do that. So Governor Ivey is done; her hands are tied? Actually, no. The same law that says we cannot do it, provides instructions for doing it.

Let's review how we reached this point. Before the advent of railroads and telegraphs, all time was local, established by the sun at high noon. When the distance that could be travelled in a day was was less than the accuracy of generally available watches, only mariners and astronomers cared that 15 degrees of East-West travel "shifted time" by an hour. This means that noon in Auburn was more than 10 minutes earlier than noon in Selma.

The growth of rail travel made every town's local time a nightmare for timetable makers. In 1883, the railroads established a system where all stations observed the same "railroad time" with stations where the zone change from Central to Eastern zone observing Central. A similar system was establish in the West. The L&N Railroad which extended well beyond its namesakes, Louisville and Nashville to Cincinnati, Chicago, Saint Louis, Birmingham and New Orleans, adopted Central Time for its entire network.

Railroad time was generally adopted as local time in those cities served by rail or telegraph, but outside of railroad towns, local time remained a patchwork. In the shadow of World War I mobilization, the first national time zones were established and largely followed the railroad zones. Over time, states have changed all or parts of their states from Central to Eastern to more closely align with the work day. As recently as 1941, Atlanta was in the Central Time Zone.

Which brings us back to Governor Ivey's problem. The legal definition of what the legislature has passed for Alabama is "Coordinated Universal Time retarded by 5 hours" or GMT-5 and it turns out the while the law does not permit you to have year-round Daylight Saving Time, it does permit you NOT to have Daylight Saving Time at all and it does permit a state to move all or part of a state to another time zone. In other words, all the Governor needs to do is issue a proclamation that whereas the people of Alabama have spoken through their legislators, pending the approval of the Secretary of Transportation, Alabama will observer Coordinated Universal Time retarded by 5 hours and will not advance clocks one hour during the annual Daylight Saving Time period.

It is not a slam dunk that the Secretary of Transportation would rubber stamp the Governor's petition to move to the Eastern Time Zone, but all or parts of states have changed time zones in the past and the facts are on Alabama's side. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a defined review process to determine whether the change would support "the convenience of commerce" and looks at such factors as radio and television markets, to what airport do airlines carry their passengers, railroads (still), and other social and economic factors.

Geographically, Alabama is the easternmost state entirely in the Central Time Zone and well east of the westernmost point in the Eastern Time Zone. Seven counties in Alabama, with 6.5% of the state's population get their primary local television from out-of-state TV stations in the Eastern Time Zone. Only three counties with 0.8% of the state's population get out-of-state local TV from the Central Time Zone.

Alabama is part of the 11th Federal Judicial Circuit (Alabama, Georgia and Florida), and Sixth District of the Federal Reserve Bank (Alabama, Georgia, Florida and parts of three other states) and most financial services are tied to East coast markets.

The majority of flights leaving and arriving in Alabama connect to the Eastern Time Zone (Atlanta more than anywhere else) and as for railroads-- funny thing about that. Since we started with central railroad time, the former L&N Railroad merged with the Chesapeake & Ohio, the Baltimore & Ohio (the B&O from Monopoly) and the Seaboard Coast Line, and now most of its tracks lay in the Eastern Time Zone including its old terminus, Louisville.

So, Governor, the legislature has acted, you signed the act for year-round Daylight Saving Time and now it is the law of the land. It is time for you to faithfully execute the law.