Railroad History

Its all about the rails


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Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, & Colorado Railway

In 1840 there were still no commercial railroads west of the Mississippi and only one operating in the South (in Charleston, South Carolina).

Texans quickly grasped the possibilities railroads offered to the frontier. To entice investment, individual cities and counties issued bonds to aid railroad construction, and the state offered loans and land grants. Texas optimistically chartered its first railroad shortly after winning independence in 1836, and construction began in the 1840s. The realities of the marketplace made failures of these early efforts.

After earlier railways were discussed, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado (BBB&C) Railroad was the first Texas railway, built west in 1850‐1852 from Harrisburg (near Buffalo Bayou and the present Port of Houston) to Richmond by Sidney Sherman. The BBB&C offered freight and passenger service along a 20-mile track between Harrisburg and Stafford.

Early Texas railroads were a perilous affair. When the BBB&C arrived at its low bridge crossing at the Brazos, passengers were offered a chance to get off and take the ferry across rather than risk their lives on the train. The Southern Pacific, located near Marshall, had an engine nicknamed the “Bull of the Woods” for its habit of jumping the tracks and charging into the woods like an enraged bull.

In July 1856, the Galveston and Red River (G&RR) Railroad (chartered 1848 by E. Allen) was built northwest from Railroad Street on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou linking Houston to Cypress, 26 miles. On September 1, 1856, the G&RR changed its name to Houston and Texas Central Railway (H&TC), with a charter to tap into Harrisburg at Junction.

Despite their shortcomings, the railroads were a major improvement in Texas transportation. In 1854, the 35-mile trip by stagecoach from Houston to Hockley took a day and a half and included an overnight stop. In 1857, it took only an hour and forty minutes by rail. The railroad freight rates were about half of those charged by teamsters, and cotton farmers began to use the roads to ship their product out to market.

The founders of the H&TC Railway were Thomas William House (who also built the first Houston street railway), Paul Bremond, and Ebenezer Allen, with Thomas Wentworth Peirce as an 1857 H&TC director. (Peirce joined the Southern Pacific acquisition in 1880‐ 1883.)

By the end of 1861, there were about 470 miles of track in Texas and nine railroad companies. Five of these companies were centered in the Houston area, and all but one served a seaport or river port.



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