This 137-mile line between Atlanta and Chattanooga was built in 184150 by the State of Georgia at a cost of almost five million dollars. Surveys for the line began in 1837, and the first train ran from Marthasville (Atlanta) to Marietta on December 23, 1842. The locomotive had to be hauled by wagon from Madison, which was at the time the western end of the Georgia Railroad. Regular service would not begin until 1845.
The Georgia Railroad reached Atlanta in September of 1845, followed by the Macon and Western the following year. In 1854, the Atlanta and West Point opened a fourth line into town, coming in from the southwest.
The W&A became a key link in the chain of Southern antebellum railroads connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River and was the foundation for Atlanta’s emergence as a rail center.
By the time of the Civil War, the W&A had 46 woodburning locomotives, two of which were to become participants in the “Great Locomotive Chase” of April 1862. It played a major role in the Atlanta Campaign and its loss to the South in 1864 was a serious blow to the Confederacy’s hopes of ultimate victory. Like many Southern railroads, the W&A suffered extensive damage during the war.
In 1870, the road and rolling stock were leased for 20 years to a corporation headed by former Governor Joseph E. Brown and made up primarily of the officers of the W&A's connecting roads.
In the 1889 edition of The Official Railway List, the W&A reported operating 55 locomotives, 41 passenger cars, and 1,332 freight and miscellaneous cars.
In 1890, the W&A was leased to the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway.
Owned by the state since its construction, the line is currently under a long-term lease to NC&St.L successor CSX Transportation.