Texas Railroad History - Tower 17 - Rosenberg

Photo by Wes Carr

 One of the earliest major rail junctions in Texas is also one of the most enduring. Tower 17 is located in the town of Rosenberg, named for the president of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway. The town was founded when the GC&SF railroad built through the area in 1880, crossing the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway a few miles west of Richmond, the county seat. The GH&SA's origins began before the Civil War when the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBB&C) Railway built 80 miles from Harrisburg (on Buffalo Bayou near Houston) to Alleyton at the banks of the Colorado River. After the war, the BBB&C was acquired by the GH&SA which later became the property of the Southern Pacific system. The GC&SF elected to cross the GH&SA a few miles west of Richmond because Richmond officials refused to grant a right-of-way through their town.

In 1881, Italian financier Joseph Telfener began construction of the New York, Texas & Mexican Railway (a.k.a the "Macaroni Line") from Rosenberg to Victoria. The NYT&M was later acquired by the Southern Pacific system and its operations were merged with the GH&SA in 1905. In 1918, the GH&SA built a line south from Rosenberg to Damon to serve sulfur mines.

The rail junction at Tower 17 continues to see heavy traffic, and is arguably the busiest rail junction in Texas located outside of a major metropolitan area. The former GH&SA line is operated by Union Pacific while the GC&SF line is operated by BNSF. The Macaroni Line was out of service for many years, but has been rebuilt by Kansas City Southern (KCS) for use by KCS trains between Houston and Victoria. Tower 17 was the last traditional manned interlocking tower in the State of Texas. Tower 16 in Sherman and Tower 47 in El Paso both closed in 2001 leaving Tower 17 as the last holdout until February 10, 2004 when Tower 17 closed. Albeit somewhat non-traditional, the title of last operational Interlocking Tower in Texas falls to Tower 97 which controls the lift bridge over Galveston Bay. The Rosenberg Railroad Museum has relocated Tower 17 to their museum site, just a few blocks from Tower 17's historic home. A hearty thank-you to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum for their efforts in the preservation of this piece of Texas railroad history!

Historic Photo, Tower 17

Tower 17 as it appeared in 1907. The gentleman in the photo is C.C. Harris
who was employed as a towerman there.  Photo from the Rosenberg Railroad
Museum courtesy of Ken E. Stavinoha.

Modern Photos, Tower 17

Tower 17 was enlarged in the 1950's when the operators were moved from the Rosenberg depot to the tower.
Notice the center molding between the floors beneath the four windows is the same as on the older photo.
The difference is that two more windows were added further to the left, and the structure of the staircase was
changed. [Photo by Jim King]

James Starkey from Templeton, MA visited Tower 17 on November 30, 2000 and sent in these photographs. BNSF 722
in Warbonnet paint rolls past the tower.

Interior photo of Tower 17 by James Starkey.  Note the contrast between the technology of 1900 with the levers to control
train movements and the computer terminals of 2000 that replaced the era of telegraph wires.

A BNSF train led by the BNSF 6859 passes Tower 17 on 2/5/01.
Photo by Bob King.

Tower 17's new home at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum (Jim King photo, November 2012)

Wes Carr's website. has additional photos of Tower 17.

Location Map, Tower 17

Historic Tower 17 to close in January 2004!
It Has Finally Happened - Tower 17 Is Going Away
Author: Bill Waldrop 11/9/2003

I went to UP Tower 17 (Rosenberg) today, and what we have long feared has happened. UP signal crews are now installing a new interlocker control building that will replace Tower 17, the last remaining operating tower in Texas. The small metal control building is in, a microwave link is set-up, and they are working quickly running wires, etc. According to a UP official I spoke with about this, he stated the tentative date for the changeover is the first week of January, 2004. The signal guys are going to have to replace all switches (and possibly the signals as well) that are controlled by the manned tower because they are not compatible with the current computer control system. The tower will come under the direct control of UP's Glidden Sub Dispatcher based in Spring. We are not sure how the BNSF will have any control of their line crossing UP at this tower, but I know their dispatcher sits very close to the UP dispatcher in the Spring Dispatch Center, so I'm sure it will be easily coordinated. The good news out of all this is the fact that the tower will NOT be torn down! In fact, UP will be moving it a few blocks east to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum, where they have already measured for the concrete base, etc. I've heard different accounts about how old this tower is and how long it has been in service...anywhere from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. It still uses the original equipment to control the switches and signals (manually pulled levers by the operator on duty). We all knew this was coming for many years, but reality has hit in the fact that it will happen very soon. I hope everyone has their pictures of this last operating tower in Texas, it's surely a classic, and it will be sorely missed. It's the end of an era.

Bill Waldrop

Recent Aerial Photos of the Tower 17 Site

Above: The Tower 17 crossing is no longer guarded by the tower. The tail end of a westbound stack train on the UP Sunset
Route passes the site of the former tower.
Below: As the UP Sunset Route main is occupied by two trains, an eastbound BNSF train approaches the Tower 17 junction at
the top of the image. Meanwhile, UP shuffles cars among local businesses in the lower part of the image where the tracks departing at
lower left now form the beginning of the recently operational KCS route to Victoria.

Last Revised: 12/16/2012 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.