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History of the Texas Railroad

The history of the Texas railroad begins in 1836, long before Texas was even a state. Having emerged from its war of independence against Mexico, the Republic of Texas was left to quickly build up its transportation network to shore up its defenses. In 1838, one of the first laws passed by the Texas legislature concerned the regulation of railroads in the territory; this was followed by further rules in 1853 requiring efficiency and financial transparency in rail operations.

Also in 1853, the Union Pacific Railroad – one of the first rail companies in Texas – began to develop its earliest rail links. The fledgling Galveston and Red River Railway would soon grow into the Houston and Central Texas line, one of the most important in the state. Although the Union Pacific company had early troubles, it soon cultivated a network of rail lines that positioned it to benefit from President Abraham Lincoln’s Transcontinental Railroad plan, started in 1862.

The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, and Texas soon found itself with robust links to rail lines originating in the Midwest and East. As the Civil War ended, more and more people from throughout the United States were attracted to the chance to make their fortune in Texas. By 1873, Texas was home to four major rail companies, which held 1,068 miles of railroad between them. All the while, the pace of migration to Texas continued to grow faster.

Tremendous growth in Texas railroads continued as the state’s frontiers were linked by more and more train routes. By 1891, there were nearly 8,900 miles of railroad track and 42 different rail companies in Texas. Spurred on by an electoral landslide, the state’s popular new governor, Jim Hogg, stepped in to establish a state Railroad Commission that would cultivate further growth while establishing rules to curb the rail companies’ growing political power.

Until the turn of the 20th century, rail companies and state politicians continued to feud, with cases about rail regulation even going all the way to the Supreme Court. However, no one could have predicted what 1901 would bring: the Texas oil boom, starting with the discovery of a huge oil reserve in Beaumont. Practically overnight, Texas became one of the top three oil-producing U.S. states – and as the railroads grew, its oil output eclipsed the Russian Empire’s.

Between 1920 and 1940, Texas rail helped transport millions of gallons of oil throughout the United States in what would be known as the “Gusher Age.” The advanced state of Texas rail also helped support and supply the Allies during World War II. Using its mighty engines, Texas quickly transformed from a mostly rural economy to a highly urbanized territory. Although the trains that run on Texas rails today are far different from the original steamers, the rich tradition of rail in Texas has had an indelible impact on the state, the nation, and even the world.

If you would like to learn more, there are many resources that you can find online. Texas is home to dozens of rail museums and other organizations that offer high-quality information on the World Wide Web. Some of the most valuable sites have been collected here:


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