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The Railroad Industry's Pivotal Role in Daylight Saving Time

Posted by the Office of Public Affairs

On Sunday, March 11 at 2 a.m., much of the nation will move their clocks forward – as we “spring ahead” to Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Did you know that the DOT and DST have a shared history that began with the railroad industry?

In 1883, U.S. and Canadian railroads adopted a four-zone system to govern their operations and reduce the confusion resulting from some 100 conflicting locally established “sun times” observed in terminals across the country.

Local decisions on which time zone to adopt were usually influenced by the time used by local railroad companies. States and municipalities then adopted one of the four zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific Time zones. 

In 1918, Congress passed the Standard Time Act (STA), marking federal oversight of time zones and establishing boundaries between the standard time zones in the continental United States so that more standardized railroad schedules could be published.
 
DOT assumed responsibility of administering the STA from the Interstate Commerce Commission, when the Department was established by a congressional act October 15, 1966.

Today, DOT oversees the nation’s time zones and the uniform observance of DST, including exercising authority that allows a state to change its official time zone.

Some states and U.S. territories do not observe DST, but its multiple benefits are still widely recognized.
You can read more about DST here.

Train locomotive moving down the railroad tracks

Local decisions on which time zone to adopt were usually influenced by the time used by local railroad companies.