Texas Railroad History - Tower 30 - Houston (Harrisburg)

Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio, the Galveston, Houston & Henderson, and the Galveston, Houston & Northern railroads

Above: This c.1940 photo is number MKT145 in the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, taken by Barriger from the rear of his private railcar as his train proceeded north on GH&H tracks from Galveston to Houston. The identity of the tower as Tower 30 is established by several details in, and associated with, the image. The prior two photos in this sequence were MKT144 (Tower 73, Texas City) and MKT142 (Tower 96, Galveston), suggesting a northbound trip on MKT tracks (the GH&H was 50% owned by MKT). Tower 30 would have been the next significant railroad structure Barriger saw after Tower 73 as he traveled north. The architecture matches that of Tower 30 based on photos taken roughly 30 years earlier (below) and ten years later (second below, right.) Barriger's view is to the south, with the depot across from the tower partially obscured by a caboose. The depot's roof outline matches that of GH&H's Harrisburg depot (below.)

Below: This excellent 1908 photo has a view facing north, precisely the opposite of the image above, that shows not much changed over the (approximately) three decades between the photos. The two semaphores adjacent to the visible track appear unchanged in both images. (Ken Stavinoha collection)

Below Left: Kenneth Anthony provides this photo of the GH&H depot at Harrisburg. Note the small hut at far left that matches the hut in Barriger's photo. Barriger was looking south, facing the north end of the depot whereas this photo faces northeast and shows the west side (trackside) and south end of the depot. The unusual end roofline is unmistakably visible in both photos. Note also the chimney, which is taller than normal and has a "top heavy" shape common to all of the photos. Below Right: This photo of Tower 30 was originally published in the May/June 1951 edition of SP Bulletin, a publication of the T&NO railroad. The photo is facing west and the GH&H tracks cross in the foreground. In the Barriger photo, the tower's north side is visible and is wider than the east side visible in this photo. The Barriger photo shows the roof crests to a short section of flat roofline (which makes sense for the long side of a rectangular tower structure) while the tower roof crests to a point in this photo because the flat roof peak can't be seen from this angle. (David Milton Collection)

Construction of the first rail line in Texas began in 1853 as the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBB&C) Railroad built west toward San Antonio from Harrisburg, a settlement on Buffalo Bayou. A few years later in the 1857-1860 time frame, the Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) railroad built north from Galveston to Houston, crossing the BBB&C just west of Harrisburg at one of the earliest railroad junctions in Texas. After the Civil War, the BBB&C was taken over by the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway. In the 1880s, the GH&H was sold to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad. At that time, the Katy did not yet reach Houston, so the GH&H was leased to the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad. Years later, the Katy reached Houston and connected with the GH&H. GH&H's ownership became split between the Katy and the I-GN, both railroads using the line for access to Galveston.

The Galveston, La Porte and Houston (GL&H) Railway was another railroad that passed through Harrisburg. The GL&H owned tracks between Harrisburg and La Porte, paralleling Buffalo Bayou, from La Porte to Texas City, paralleling the coastline of Galveston Bay, and from Harrisburg to Magnolia Park (Tower 102) in Houston. At Harrisburg, the GL&H tracks crossed the GH&H and GH&SA near the existing junction. In 1899, a newly chartered railroad, the Galveston, Houston & Northern (GH&N), was established to acquire the GL&H which had gone into bankruptcy as their bridge across Galveston Bay was being built (and then promptly wiped out by the Great Hurricane of 1900.) On December 31, 1903, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) authorized operation of Tower 30 as a 24-function mechanical interlocker to control the junction at Harrisburg. GH&H, GH&SA and GH&N were listed as the operating railroads. After the GH&N was acquired by GH&SA in 1905, RCT's annual list of interlockers dropped the reference to GH&N. It remained this way until the 1927 RCT Annual Report added "PTA" to indicate the Port Terminal Railroad Association (PTRA). The PTRA had been created in 1924 to begin providing coordinated rail access among the major railroads for the Port of Houston, including construction of new tracks where necessary. Tower 30 was less than a mile from the Houston Ship Channel, so it is not surprising that PTRA-related controls were added to Tower 30's responsibilities.

Tower 30 sat in what was effectively the southwest quadrant of the crossing, but due to the angles of the tracks, it was closer to being due south of the diamond. The Tower 30 junction eventually became known to railroaders as "Katy Neck", a term still in use by railroaders today. The GH&H continued with shared ownership until it and the Katy were fully merged into Missouri Pacific in 1989. The GH&SA tracks became owned by the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) railroad, the principal operating railroad in Texas for the Southern Pacific (SP) system. Today, all lines crossing at Katy Neck (other than PTRA tracks) are owned by Union Pacific.

Above: two views of the Katy Neck electronics cabinet (Jim King, 2005)

Below: This 1969 photo was taken by Greg Johnson; the cabin housed the Tower 30 automatic interlocker, with override controls mounted beside the door.

Above Left: Tower 30 appears as a small square "Signal Tower" at the center of this image (with magnification above right) from the 1951 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Houston. The image is rotated so that north is up.

Above: Changes to the extensive rail network in the vicinity of the Tower 30 crossing over the past 100+ years makes it almost impossible to convey the history of all of the existing lines and the locations of the abandoned lines. The main abandonment is the GH&N (ex-GL&H) line to Tower 102 which previously crossed Bray's Bayou and intersected with the GH&SA and other lines near the tower. A power line now occupies that right-of-way. To put this map in perspective relative to the larger Houston metropolitan area, Tower 30 is located about 0.6 miles west-southwest of Brady Island, an island in the Houston Ship Channel.

In comparison to the satellite image, consider these two maps. The above map is a 1926 T&NO track chart (courtesy Carl Codney) of the Harrisburg area. The map is oriented such that northeast is "up". The GH&H crossing of the T&NO is on the map but is not identified as Tower 30. The depot marked on the map was the T&NO depot for Harrisburg. The "To Houston" at the left edge was the former GH&N (ex-GL&H) line to Tower 102. Below: This snippet of a 1913 map of Houston (hat tip, Leonard Ruback) shows the former GL&H line owned by GH&SA roughly parallel to the GH&H line, both crossing Bray's Bayou a short distance north of the Tower 30 crossing. The diamond east of Tower 30 where the GH&SA's east/west (ex-BBB&C) line crossed GH&SA's north/south (ex-GH&N) line may have originally been controlled by Tower 30 since the interlocker was installed before GH&SA bought GH&N. How the tower's interlocker controls evolved over time is not known.

Last Revised: 3/11/2020 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.