Texas Railroad History - Tower 49 and Tower 166 - Plano

Two Crossings of the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad (Cotton Belt) South of Downtown Plano

Tower 49:   Crossing of the Cotton Belt and the Houston & Texas Central Railway
Tower 166: Crossing of the Cotton Belt and the Texas Electric Railway

Above: Tower 49 is visible at right in this undated image taken from the collection of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library. The photo was most likely taken by Barriger from the rear platform of a Cotton Belt train headed west toward Addison. Behind Tower 49 and across the north/south SP tracks sits the joint Cotton Belt / Southern Pacific station. The bright white cabinet nearer to the camera is a maintenance or equipment shed for the Tower 166 interlocker that managed the Cotton Belt's crossing of the Texas Electric Railway. The shed sloped down toward the TE tracks, which are in front of the shed at this angle. The front end of a Texas Electric car is visible at left of center, partially obscured by trees, no doubt waiting for Barriger's train to pass.

Below: The collection of Dr. George Winn provides these images of the Tower 166 crossing (hat tip, Jimmy Barlow.) Below left and center, the TE car is headed north across the diamond, adjacent to the shed that appears in the above photo. The smaller electronics cabinet beside the shed may have housed interlocker electronics. Below right, this view from inside a TE car looks south toward the crossing. Note the person walking in the middle of the tracks in the distance.

When the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) railroad built north from Dallas toward the Red River in 1872, it passed through an unincorporated settlement north of Dallas. A year later, the citizens of this area incorporated and the town became known as Plano (Spanish for "flat" or "plain", accurately describing the local terrain). H&TC eventually became part of the Southern Pacific (SP) system, and was ultimately absorbed into the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railway, SP's principal operating company in Texas. The H&TC helped the local economy grow, and it grew even quicker when a second railroad, the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway (SLA&T), arrived in 1888, passing about a half mile south of downtown as construction proceeded westward from Commerce to Ft. Worth. When the SLA&T went bankrupt in 1891, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (SSW, more commonly called the "Cotton Belt") acquired the property through a newly chartered Texas subsidiary. Both rail lines saw steady traffic for many years, and the east/west Cotton Belt line, now used by Kansas City Southern (KCS), still sees trains daily as part of a significant rail link between Ft. Worth and points east.

Tower 49 was constructed at the H&TC/Cotton Belt crossing in 1904 housing an electric interlocking plant. The 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Plano depicts it as a 2-story "R.R. Interlocking Plant" in the northwest quadrant of the diamond. The structure no longer appears on the next Sanborn map, 1949, so it is likely that it was dismantled between those years. SP gained permission to control the Cotton Belt in 1932; with both rail lines under common operational control, the need for a manned tower to remain in service would have been reduced, but it is not known whether this contributed directly to Tower 49's decommissioning. The former H&TC north/south line remained in service until the early 1990s. At that time, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system acquired the right-of-way for use with the construction of an electric light rail line, the DART Red Line, serving Plano from downtown Dallas.

The DART Red Line parallels the route of the former Texas Electric Railway Co. interurban line between Dallas and Plano (and points north), a line originally built by the Texas Traction Co. in 1908. The Texas Electric crossed the Cotton Belt at grade about a hundred yards west of Tower 49. This crossing was apparently uncontrolled (trains on both lines must stop) until 1931 when Tower 166 was established to control this crossing. The Barriger photo appears to show an automatic interlocker cabinet, but there is no indication in Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) annual reports as to the type of interlocker originally constructed. The Texas Electric was the last interurban operating in Texas, terminating service at the end of 1948, at which point the Tower 166 interlocker would have been retired.

Above: With North to the right, the Texas Electric and H&TC rail lines are seen running parallel through Plano, crossing the SSW at grade south (left) of downtown. This image is an excerpt from the 1921 Sanborn index map.

Below: A detailed map from the 1921 Sanborn collection shows Tower 49 as a two-story "R.R. Interlocking Plant" in the northwest quadrant of the crossing, with an external staircase (x) on the southeast corner of the building. Barriger's Tower 49 photo shows that the staircase landing was on the south edge of the west wall rising to an entrance on the northwest corner of the 2nd floor. This could be a drafting error or the staircase might have been moved. Spur and connecting tracks are visible, but the Texas Electric crossing is just beyond the left edge of the map and unfortunately does not appear on any other detailed maps.

Texas & New Orleans Railway, Dallas Division, 1926 Side Track Record
(courtesy T&NO Archives)

Above: This side track chart for the crossing in Plano shows Tower 49 as a black rectangle in the northwest quadrant of the crossing. North is to the left, and the east/west Cotton Belt line is the dashed diagonal line. The Texas Electric Railway is shown as a horizontal dashed line. The Tower 166 interlocker did not exist until five years after this record was drawn.

 Tower 49 in 1997 (Jim King photo)

Above: Although the tower is long gone, the Tower 49 identity for the automatic interlocker at this crossing was still in use when this photo was taken in 1997 before DART construction began. The view in this photo is facing south along the ex-H&TC rail line with the former Cotton Belt line crossing east to west (left to right) just beyond the cabinet.

Below: Looking north, this area appears considerably different as the DART Red Line now occupies the north/south right of way, crossing the site of Tower 49 on a bridge to provide grade separation from the KCS (ex-Cotton Belt) line that is still in use. An industry spur curves to the south, crossing under the elevated DART tracks and then continuing south for a couple of blocks along the west side of the bridge. The location of the Tower 166 crossing is visible at the left side of the image where I Avenue reaches the KCS tracks.

Above: The Tower 49 cabinet remains in place in this May, 2016 Google Street View image.

Below: This image of the crossing at the site of Tower 49 was drawn as part of a "Bird's Eye View" of Plano in 1891. The artist was Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler who traveled extensively throughout Texas in 1890-91 producing Bird's Eye View maps of numerous Texas towns. Fowler's map of Plano included details of the railroad crossing that was the future site of Tower 49. The Plano Cotton Compress is shown adjacent to the crossing with bales of cotton ready to be loaded. The interurban line eventually ran along the opposite side of this business.

Location Map - Tower 49

Above: This satellite image of the Tower 49 crossing shows the DART double track occupying the former H&TC north/south right-of- way while the former Cotton Belt tracks cross diagonally, now used by KCS. The connecting track in the southeast quadrant is an illusion -- the spur curves under the DART tracks to serve a nearby business. "I Avenue" is the former Texas Electric right-of-way just west of the DART tracks.

Above: This bird's eye view of the Tower 49 location facing west shows the spur curving under the DART tracks to the south. Note the white house at the upper right center edge of the image; this house is visible in the image below.

Below: Facing south, "I Ave.", the Texas Electric right-of-way, is barricaded at the Cotton Belt tracks and does not cross at the site of the former Tower 166 interlocker. The house at the lower left center edge is visible in the image above.

Last Revised: 2/21/2018 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.