Western Trips

Western Trips

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Texas Railroads

When you research the golden days of railroading you'll come to recognize that the state of Texas might of had the largest number of different railroads crossing it's borders. Texas railroads were numerous as were the train depots servicing them. Just as with the case of railroad towns all across the country, railroads came and went and many merged together. Fortunately, a good number of these historic train stations still exist in Texas.

waxahachie texas train depot
Restored old Katy Railroad depot
The two historic train depots featured in this article are found in Waxahachie Texas, located in Ellis County, about thirty miles south of Dallas. Waxahachie had been around prior to the Civil War (1850) but like so many settlements around the nation it was the railroad industry that spurred it's growth and solidified it's future.

The M-K-T Waxahachie Train Station

One of the historic railroads that came down from the north into Texas was the MKT, commonly referred to as the Katy. This was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. In fact the Katy was the first railroad to come down into Texas from the north. Waxahachie Texas was on the main line of the Katy Flyer, a very popular named rail route which ran from St. Louis Missouri to Galveston Texas. The entire journey was made in thirty-seven hours. The Katy Flyer offered buffet sleeper cars for those passengers who chose to have meals aboard the train. The other option was to take meals at the MKT eateries located in some select stops such as Dallas. The MKT Katy Flyer operated over this route for decades lasting all the way to 1961.

mkt railroad sign
The MKT Depot in Waxahachie Texas was closed at the time of it's merger with the Union Pacific Railroad in 1988. By that time all of the passenger service had been long gone. Freight was the name of the game in Texas.

Today the old Katy Railroad Depot is used by the city of Waxahachie. The station is located just a few blocks south of the courthouse on S. College Avenue.

The Rock Island Waxahachie Train Depot

Waxahachie Texas has the distinction of having two restored historic railroad depots directly across from one another. In addition to the old MKT Depot you'll also see the old Rock Island train station with it's unique architecture. This train station was actually built by the Trinity & Brazos Valley Railroad which began in 1902 and was eventually merged into the Burlington-Rock Island in 1930 after several years of financial difficulty. Waxahachie was similar to many Texas towns where it was at the junction of several railroads, multiple lines and multiple train stations. In the case of Waxahchie, the MKT and the BRI separated there for lines leading south from town. The Burlington-Rock Island operated on rail line rights over MKT owned tracks north of Waxahachie to Dallas.

rock island train station waxahachie texas
Old Rock Island Depot
The old Rock Island depot in Waxahachie has a unique tower design which looks very much like the BRI Depot in nearby Corsicana Texas. 

The last of the Rock Island passenger trains to travel through Waxahachie and utilize the depot was the Sam Houston Zephyr. This was the BRI route connecting Fort Worth Texas and Houston which started service in 1936. The year 1936 also saw the large Texas Centennial celebrations throughout the state. Travel time on the new streamlined Sam Houston Zephyr was originally five hours with only four stops along the way, Waxahachie being one of them. Because of declining profits and competition from automobiles and airlines the Sam Houston Zephyr discontinued service in 1966.

Links to two additional Western Trips photo article regarding railroads in Texas include;

The Slaton Texas Harvey House

Texas Train Rides / The Heartland Flyer

The Old Spanish Trail Highway

Texas Railroading

Anyone who has spent time researching the history of specific railroads will understand that mergers and acquisitions were commonplace. There were a great number of situations where very small lines were chartered to build rail lines over perhaps a few hundred miles. Over the years and in some cases in only a few years these lines merged with other larger railroads and these as well were acquired by even larger railroads. The southern branch of the Katy Railroad was primarily made up of several of these smaller lines being acquired.

rock island train depot
 Geographically, Texas, by reason of it's size, was a crossroads for railroads for two main reasons. The state was growing steadily and passenger service was in demand to cities such as Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The second reason was that efforts were made from Texas to build a southern transcontinental route to either Los Angeles or San Diego. Such an effort was begun by the old Texas Pacific Railroad which ultimately ended with the Southern Pacific route from Los Angeles to New Orleans via El Paso, San Antonio and Houston.

As you travel around Texas you'll have the opportunity to explore many historic train stations from railroad's golden age.

In addition to Texas train depots there are also preserved Harvey Houses which were built along the Santa Fe Railroad tracks such as the old Harvey dining room just about eight miles south of Lubbock in the town of Slaton. The Slaton Harvey site is now a Harvey House museum and B & B.

(Photos from author's collection)

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