Freeways Killed These Houston Railways

Just as Video Killed the Radio Star, so too did the highway kill the railroad, or at least some of them. 

Now without trying to shoehorn some early 80's pop culture into my blogs, the more nuanced take is that highways built upon existing railroad networks and certainly disrupted the rail industry, but that doesn't mean railroads aren't highly profitable even today. Still, if one takes a look at the abandoned railroads map in the Houston, TX area, you'll see rights of way used to exist where three freeways exist today, and that's the subject of today's blog. 

At least in one case, the freeway did not come until over a decade after the railway was abandoned.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway

The Katy Freeway is one of the widest freeways in the world in spots. It is signed as Interstate 10 between Houston and Katy, TX. I-10 continues east to Jacksonville, FL and west to Santa Monica, CA.

Image: Gary Morris, 1978

While the freeway has existed since the 1960's, it was expanded to its current size beginning in 2003, using the adjacent right-of-way of the abandoned Houston to Katy railroad line, first constructed by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in 1893, and abandoned by Union Pacific in 2002. However, the project had been proposed much earlier than when groundbreaking finally began, according to this 1997 article.

A YouTube Video preserved the operations of this line as they were in 1985, shown below.


The line now ends in Katy, when I-10 curves north to use the recently abandoned right-of-way. Much of the Westbound I-10 Frontage Road is built directly atop the old line. A Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Museum still exists in Katy, a few miles west of the abandonment, but along the same right of way.

Image: MKT Caboose at Katy Museum by Peggy Woods, Wander Wisdom


Galveston–Houston Electric Railway

The Galveston-Houston Electric Railway ran between its namesake cities along a streetcar line, which generally followed today's I-45. 

In service from 1911 to 1936, it completed the 50 mile journey between the two cities in just 75 minutes, being recognized as the fastest Interurban Railway in 1925 and 1926. From 1936 to 1940, the Houston Electric Company continued to run trains between downtown and Park Place Blvd.


Galveston-Houston Electric Railway at an unknown location. Rosenberg Library.

As early as 1930, however, plans for a superhighway along the corridor began to germinate. And in 1948, the Gulf Freeway was dedicated, which at that point was still unnamed, and going by the "Interurban Expressway" moniker. By 1952, the first stretch of the road was open.

A 1952 photo of the Gulf Freeway dedication, before the Interstate Highway System. Houston Chronicle.

In the late 1950's, this became part of Interstate 45. While much of the Gulf Freeway used the old right of way, there are noticeable diversions that create scarchitecture that can be seen even today on satellite imagery!

San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway, Southern Pacific

Much like the Katy Fwy expansion, the Westpark Tollway owes its existence to an abandoned railroad right-of-way being converted into a freeway.

In this case, the abandoned corridor ran between downtown Houston and Eagle Lake. The line starts just east of I-69/US-59 Downtown, then makes a westerly turn that neatly follows I-69 to the Westpark interchange, where the right of way was in the exact same location as the Tollway is today.

West of the Westpark, the line follows roughly the path of Farm-to-Market 1093. Further west of Wallis, TX, the rails are still in place to Eagle Lake, but the line is out of service.

From Abandoned Rails, "Abandoned crossing signals! On the section being abandoned west of the UP main. Evidently, the City of Houston abandoned the road before the rail line was abandoned. Photo by Jason Rose, June 2001."


Construction of the Westpark began in 2001, opening in 2004, which is when the railroad was abandoned by Union Pacific in the Houston area.

From Abandoned Rails, "Looking east towards Houston on the west side of the UP double track main. The ties and rails are in the process of being removed. Photo by Jason Rose, June 2001."


The line got its start in the 1880's as the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway before being consolidated into the Texas & New Orleans system, a Southern Pacific subsidiary. A bridge over the Brazos River still stands post-abandonment, but is unused after railroad operations ceased.

Abandonded RR Through Truss Bridge NE of Wallis. Photo: Barclay Gibson, February 2009 via Texas Escapes


Thanks as always for reading!



Comments

  1. Thanks for this posting and photos. I have a clarification for the Gulf Freeway use of the right-of-way of the Houston-Galveston Electric Railway. The freeway followed the railroad right-of-way from downtown to Monroe, where you can see the alignment turn in a slightly more south direction, away from the railroad alignment. Most of the railroad right-of-way became a high-voltage right-of-way, which is easily visible on Google aerial maps.

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  2. The last photo is of the old former Southern Pacific truss bridge over the Brazos River between Wallis and Simonton, Texas. Of note, the Brazos was originally spanned at this location by a series of steel truss bridges. I was a firefighter in Houston from 1975 to 1983. At some year during that time. This bridge failed and all but one steel truss span fell into the river due to high water, swift current, and age. A firefighter, who worked on my shift, named F.G. Morris, lived in Wallis and drove FM 1093 (which paralleled the tracks) to work every work shift, arriving by 7:00 AM. In the early morning darkness when the bridge fell, F. G. Morris was making his way to Houston. When he saw the bridge had fallen, he knew from driving to work countless times that a regularly scheduled freight from Houston was imminently on its way. F. G. Morris alerted law enforcement, who alerted the railroad by radio to the danger ahead. As I remember, the train was stopped within a mile of the river, avoiding catastrophe.

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