railroads date back to February 11, 1850 when the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos
& Colorado Railway was chartered courtesy of its founder, Sidney
Sherman. Three years later, by 1853, the railroad had extended 20 miles
from Harrisburg, near Houston to Austin. By 1860 the railroad had
extended to reach such towns as Alleyton, Eagle Lake, Richmond, and
Brazos. The line fell into bankruptcy in the mid-1860s although it was
reincorporated in 1868 as the Galveston, Harrisburg, & San Antonio
Railroad better known as the Harrisburg Railroad. The new owners poured
much needed capital into the company and extended it to San Antonio.
By July of 1881 the GH&SA had come under the ownership of the
Southern Pacific, which used the company to build a secondary main line
to the port city of New Orleans. The GH&SA remained an operating
entity through the late winter of 1927 when it was leased to the Texas
& New Orleans Railroad, another SP subsidiary.
Due to Texas’ strategic location, large size, and sources of traffic it, of course, did not take long for other railroads to begin tapping and building aggressively into the state. In the years following the arrival of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado several other, and more celebrated, lines built into Texas. Of all of these railroads, the SP and MP controlled the majority of the route miles in Texas connecting to virtually every major city in the state with a significant presence in lucrative East Texas where the chemical industry sprang up.
Both railroads served all of the state’s key markets and both of whom also operated key main lines to reach such cities as Houston, San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth (Southern Pacific’s Sunset Route and Missouri Pacific’s Texas & Pacific main line). Both railroads were fierce competitors in the Southwest, particularly in Texas, dating all of the way back to the late 19th century when Jay Gould controlled the MP and Collis P. Huntington the SP.
Today, Texas railroads are mostly the domain
of Union Pacific which controls roughly 51% of the trackage in the
state, which is interesting considering that the UP never had a presence
at all in the Lone Star State until it purchased the MoPac and later,
SP. Another 38% is the domain of BNSF leaving a mere 11% in control of
shortlines. And, as you can probably guess, Texas railroads feature
several shortlines. Some of these include the Angelina & Neches
River Railroad; Austin Western Railroad; Blacklands Railroad; Border
Pacific Railroad; Corpus Christi Terminal; Dallas, Garland &
Northeastern Railroad; Fort Worth & Western Railroad; Galveston
Railroad; GWI Switching Services; Panhandle Northern Railway; Point
Comfort & Northern Railway; Rockdale, Sandow & Southern
Railroad; Texas Central Business Lines; Timber Rock Railroad; and the
Wichita, Tillman & Jackson Railway.
In total, railroads in Texas today still operate over 10,000
miles of trackage although this is down from the peak of 16,125 miles
during the industry's height that occurred during the 1920s. Still, the
state retains about 65% of its railroad infrastructure, mostly due to
the fact that several important routes pass through Texas, such as those
mentioned at the beginning of this article. Much of the 6,000 miles
that has been abandoned are low-density secondary and branch lines,
along with part of the Katy which the UP abandoned after acquiring
ownership in the late 1980s. For more information on Texas railroads,
in terms of route mileage over the years please take a look at the chart above.
Under Amtrak, Texas has retained a number of the famous passenger trains
that existed prior to the carrier. For instance Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited still runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles and Missouri Pacific’s Texas Eagle still makes several stops in the state including San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin (at San Antonio you can jump on board the Sunset Limited
to Los Angeles or New Orleans and vice-versa). To learn more about
these historic streamliners, and others, which served Texas please click here.
Lastly, if you are an avid railroad historian or enjoy excursion
trains, then you’ll love what Texas has to offer! For instance, there
is the Austin Steam Train Association which operates excursion trains
behind historic Alco diesels (complete in Southern Pacific “Black
Widow” livery) and an ex-Southern Pacific Mikado (2-8-2) steam
locomotive. And then there is the Galveston Railroad Museum, one of the
finest in the state that features plenty of historic equipment and
interactive exhibits. Altogether, Texas railroads are as grand as the Lone Star State itself and truly are Like A Whole Other Country.
With over 10,000 miles of rails, whether you are interested in high
speed, main line freight operations, local shortlines or just a good
museum you should have no problem finding it in Texas.
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