Texas Railroad History - Tower 31 (Connell) and KCS Tower - Beaumont

A Crossing of Texas & New Orleans Railway and the Kansas City Southern Railway

The Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) was one of the earliest railroads in Texas. Under the ownership of the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad, the T&NO was for many years the primary operating company for the SP in Texas. Its original line in Texas, later part of the famed "Sunset Route", connected Houston with Orange in 1861. It was completed shortly before the Civil War using wide (5' 6") gauge construction. However, there is historical evidence to suggest that the line was never operated between Beaumont and Orange before or during the War. In 1863, rails were removed between Orange and Beaumont by Confederate forces to assist in building a fort at Sabine Pass. The complete line between Houston and Beaumont was rebuilt to standard gauge in 1866, and extended to Orange in 1876.

The Texarkana and Fort Smith (T&FS) Railway was originally chartered as the Texarkana and Northern Railway in 1885, planning to build north from Texarkana to serve logging interests in Arkansas. The name was changed in 1889 as plans were made to extend the line to Fort Smith. By 1892, only 26 miles of construction had been completed into the forests of southern Arkansas, and that year, the railroad was acquired by the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf (KCP&G) Railroad as part of Arthur Stilwell's plan to build a rail line between Kansas City and the Gulf of Mexico. The T&FS charter was amended to include a route south from Texarkana to the Gulf of Mexico, with much of it to be located in Louisiana. In 1896, the T&FS built 24 miles of track south from Texarkana to the Louisiana state line. By 1897, the construction had re-entered Texas northeast of Beaumont and continued south to the newly founded "Port Arthur", crossing the T&NO east of Beaumont, the site where Tower 31 was eventually constructed. Full service between Kansas City and Port Arthur began on November 1, 1897. By 1900, Stilwell had lost control of the KCP&G and it was bought by the newly chartered Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railway, which continues to operate the route today.

The crossing site was approximately one mile east of the Neches River; each railroad maintained its own bridge over the Neches into downtown Beaumont. The lines crossed at an acute angle since the two railroads were on similar northeast/southwest headings. Tower 31 was located near the east end of T&NO's Diana Siding and was commissioned for operations on October 1, 1903. The Reese-Corriher Lumber Co. established a mill near the tower in 1913, and the town that sprang up to serve the mill became known as Connell for the mill's president, G. H. Connell. A post office opened, but the lumber in this area played out by 1924 and the town was abandoned.

SP's original bridge over the Neches became outdated and was replaced in 1924 and again in 1940. Frank Fertita explains...
"The swing bridge was installed in 1924 to allow taller-masted vessels to pass up and down the river. As river commerce and traffic increased, the need for a wider (than 100') span (on either side of the pivot point) necessitated the replacement with a different type of bridge and pressure was put on the railroad to do so. The Southern Pacific engineering department decided on a Bascule type lift bridge and contracted with American Bridge Company to build the structure at a cost of $450,000. The bridge was installed in June 1940 and at the time was the longest Bascule span (230') in the United States. It was in service until November 1967 and then it was removed in December 1968 in conjunction with the the major realignment of the Southern Pacific's trackage through the city. Southern Pacific traffic was re-routed to the Kansas City Southern Lift bridge (built in 1938.)"

After the two railroads began sharing the use and maintenance of the KCS bridge over the Neches River, the T&NO rails were removed between Tower 31 and downtown Beaumont. This eliminated the need for Tower 31 in its traditional sense. However, "Tower 31" continues as the designation for the automatic interlocker at this junction of KCS and Union Pacific.

The location of Tower 31 is shown on the map below. We would like to have a historic photo showing the tower at this location. If you have any information regarding a source for a photo, please contact us.

Modern Photos, Tower 31

Above: Tower 31 is now a walk-in interlocker.

Above: A bird's eye view of Tower 31. To the right, the UP line (lower) splits from the KCS tracks as they
proceed east. (both images, Microsoft Visual Earth)
Below: Looking south, a KCS train occupies the tracks at Tower 31. The UP tracks depart the KCS main at lower left. A spur
track into a salvage yard is also visible. The overgrown T&NO ROW is visible as a tree line to the right.

SP Bridge over the Neches River

The 1924 SP swivel bridge over the Neches River is shown in this post card photograph (courtesy Mark St. Aubin).

Location Map, Beaumont Area Towers

The map above depicts the historic locations of the main rail lines and junctions in the Beaumont area, some of which are no longer in service.
Legend: Yellow => Missouri Pacific (MP), Blue => Southern Pacific (SP), Purple => Kansas City Southern (KCS), Green => Santa Fe (GCSF)

Satellite Map, Tower 31 Location


Below is a recent photo of the KCS Tower at the Neches River bridge. [We do not know who to credit for
this photo. If it belongs to you, please email us!]

Aerial Images, Neches River Bridge and KCS Tower

Above: KCS Tower is visible on the west side (left) of the Neches River bridge near downtown Beaumont (Microsoft Visual Earth).
Below: A close-up of the tower shows the trackside staircase.

Last Revised: 1/2/2011 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.