Texas Railroad History - Tower 80 - Houston (Percival, Belt Junction)

Crossing of the Houston Belt & Terminal Railway and the International & Great Northern Railroad

Photos from the John W Barriger III National Railroad Library
 
Above: John W. Barriger III took this photo from the rear platform of his business car in the early 1940s, apparently having just spotted Tower 80 in the distance (magnified at right.) His train had come northbound onto the main line of the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad from the adjacent connecting track (note switch positioned against the main track.) The signal post numerals show that Barriger was at Milepost 145.9, one-tenth of a mile north of Tower 80's listed timetable location of 146.0. (See purple arrow in the diagram below.)

Below Left
: Moments earlier, Barriger's train had passed over the East Belt tracks of the Houston, Belt & Terminal (HB&T) Railway. At that diamond (in the foreground), Barriger had a closer view of Tower 80 a hundred yards to his left sitting in the northeast quadrant of the East Belt's crossing of the I-GN. Visible in the far distance is HB&T's North Belt which Barriger's train exited using Belt Junction's east connector. The switch visible beyond the diamond controlled whether northbound trains merged eastbound onto the East Belt or continued north to cross the East Belt and merge onto the I-GN, as Barriger's train was doing when he snapped this photo. (See green arrow in the diagram below.)

Below Right
: A few seconds beforehand, Barriger took this photo just as his train cleared the switch off the North Belt onto the east connector. The North Belt was the "Passenger Main", the primary route for I-GN and other passenger trains departing Union Station to the north. The opposite route at the switch was the west connector that curved westbound onto the main line of the Burlington - Rock Island Railroad to Dallas. Barriger's destination was Palestine, as evidenced by additional photos in this sequence from the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library. (See blue arrow in the diagram below.)


Above: Barriger was shooting south from the rear platform as his train was moving north, from the bottom of the image to the top along the dotted red line. His first photo (blue arrow) was taken where his train left the North Belt (pink arrows) onto the east connector. He took the second photo (green arrow) shortly after his train had taken the connecting track that crossed over the East Belt (orange arrows). The switch visible in that photo is the continuation of the east connector ("A") that curved onto the East Belt near the tower. The last photo (purple arrow) occurred immediately after coming onto the I-GN main line (yellow arrows.) The car in that image ("B") is on Hardy Rd. immediately west of the I-GN tracks. There was also a lead ("C") off the East Belt into the Koppers creosote yard; the yard connected to the I-GN farther north. This intersection of HB&T's East Belt and North Belt tracks was known as Belt Junction. (1944 aerial image provided by the Texas General Land Office and Google Earth)

The Houston & Great Northern (H&GN) Railroad commenced construction in 1871 with a plan to build from Houston to the Canadian border. By the end of 1873, the east Texas town of Palestine was the northern extent of the tracks, about 150 miles from Houston. The International Railroad also had tracks in Palestine as part of its plan for a main line between Fulton, Arkansas and Mexico. The International had begun construction at Hearne, roughly the mid-point of its route, and by 1873 had built northeast to Longview via Palestine. With their goals and their tracks connecting in Palestine, the H&GN and the International joined forces to create the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad. The I-GN expanded to become one of the major railroads in Texas, but not without enduring several bankruptcies.

Fifty years later, the I-GN was coming out of a lengthy receivership in excellent shape physically and financially. By then (1922), it served numerous major Texas cities and towns, among them Houston, Galveston, Fort Worth, Longview, Waco, Bryan/College Station, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, a vast swath of Texas commerce. Its new owners tried to sell it to the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad ("Frisco"), but the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) withheld approval. This potential sale alarmed the Missouri Pacific (MP) Railroad; it wanted the I-GN as its entry into the Texas market. To prevent the I-GN from falling into unfriendly hands, MP orchestrated the I-GN's acquisition by the New Orleans, Texas & Mexico (NOT&M) Railway. The NOT&M was a collection of railroads known more commonly as the "Gulf Coast Lines" (GCL), originally part of Frisco but independent after Frisco's receivership in 1913. With I-GN safely added to the GCL portfolio, MP bought the GCL in 1925 with ICC's approval, gaining the I-GN and the rest of the GCL railroads. Among these were two, the Beaumont, Sour Lake & Western (BSL&W) and the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico (SLB&M), that each owned 25% of the Houston Belt & Terminal (HB&T) Railway. Thus, acquiring the GCL in 1925 instantly gave MP half ownership of the HB&T, and full ownership of three railroads in Houston: I-GN, BSL&W and SLB&M.

The HB&T had been chartered by four railroads twenty years earlier, the other two being the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway ("Santa Fe") and the Trinity & Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railway. HB&T's chartered purpose was to construct a Union Station for passengers and build additional tracks and yards to facilitate freight interchange around Houston. This was a rather bold plan considering that, at this time (1905), three of the four railroads did not have tracks in Houston! Those three were controlled by B. F. Yoakum, a native Texan who was CEO of the Frisco, and earlier that year had become Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad ("Rock Island"). In those days, several years before its 1913 bankruptcy, Frisco owned the GCL. The GCL had two railroads, the BSL&W and the SLB&M, that were preparing to build into Houston. For logistical purposes (and perhaps community credibility), HB&T needed an owner that was already serving the city. Adding Santa Fe to the ownership group satisfied this need. With Yoakum controlling a 75% stake, HB&T's real purpose was to put track and facility infrastructure into Houston to become the central hub of Yoakum's Texas railroad network.

What was in it for Santa Fe? Yoakum had been an executive at Santa Fe a decade earlier, so he knew them well. Santa Fe only had a branch line into Houston from Alvin, so it made sense for them to join with Yoakum to compete in the Houston market against Southern Pacific (SP), which already controlled four railroads in downtown Houston. SP had a fifth railroad in downtown Houston, but a lawsuit filed by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) successfully forced SP to divest the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway in 1904 (as explained for Tower 2.) SP Chairman E. H. Harriman had substantial enmity toward Yoakum, accusing him of using his personal relationships with RCT commissioners to raise a legal issue more than a decade after SP had acquired the SA&AP (and he was especially galled because Yoakum had been the SA&AP's court-appointed Receiver at the time.) Yoakum's executive career had started with SA&AP under the tutelage of its president Uriah Lott in the mid 1880s. Lott regarded Yoakum so highly that he chose "Yoakum" as the name of the south Texas town where SA&AP's shops were to be built. Yoakum returned the favor in 1903 by naming Lott president of the SLB&M. When the SLB&M's northward construction from the Rio Grande Valley finally reached the town of Algoa in 1906, Yoakum negotiated rights to use Santa Fe's tracks from Algoa to Houston. This avoided the expense of SLB&M building its own line into the city (where the two railroads would be sharing HB&T's tracks anyway.) When SLB&M service from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley began in 1906, the Houston - Algoa segment was navigated on Santa Fe tracks via the branch at Alvin under an agreement that remains in place today for the successor railroads.

The fourth HB&T owner, the T&BV, also did not serve Houston; it wasn't even building in that direction! But it became Yoakum's solution to a basic problem he faced -- he did not have a railroad that operated between north and south Texas. The Frisco and Rock Island both served Dallas/Ft. Worth, but they had no connection to his GCL railroads in south Texas. Instead, Yoakum's companies delivered freight to other railroads, primarily SP, when transfers between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston were required. Yoakum wanted to keep this lengthy freight haul (~ 250 miles) within his empire, so his solution was to buy a small, central Texas railroad, the T&BV, and revise its charter for construction of a Houston - Dallas main line. Yoakum arranged for the Colorado & Southern (C&S) Railway (where he was on the Board of Directors) to buy the T&BV and then sell half of it to Rock Island. When this occurred on August 1, 1905, the T&BV had just 79 miles of track, from Cleburne to Mexia (where it passed within a mile of Yoakum's birthplace, the tiny settlement of Tehuacana.)

Planning far ahead in his typical bold fashion, Yoakum negotiated trackage rights for the T&BV between Houston and Galveston, but there are conflicting answers as to which railroad provided the tracks. The dean of Texas rail historians, S. G. Reed, states that it was the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway that initially provided rights. RCT's 1913 Annual Report states that T&BV had rights on 46 miles of Santa Fe tracks between Houston and Galveston. The mostly likely answer is "both", i.e. GH&SA provided the initial rights, and T&BV switched to Santa Fe rights later. Since the GH&SA was legally independent in 1905, but functionally controlled by SP, it would not be a surprise to find that SP management leaned on the GH&SA to dissolve the T&BV agreement at some later time, and thus, T&BV struck a deal with Santa Fe. Whatever the case, Yoakum chartered the Galveston Terminal Railway (GTR) on August 29, 1905 and assigned its ownership to the T&BV, positioning him to influence freight hauls through the port of Galveston. Two days later, the HB&T was chartered in Houston with T&BV as a 25% owner. He then negotiated rights for the T&BV to use Santa Fe's line between Ft. Worth and Cleburne. Yoakum finished his busy 1905 by signing a contract with the C&S wherein he agreed to oversee revisions to the T&BV's charter and manage construction of the new main line.

Left: Houston was to be the "Grand Central Station" of Yoakum's rail empire in Texas and Louisiana. After becoming Chairman of the Frisco in 1897, Yoakum began planning a major expansion using Frisco backing of a financial syndicate managed by the St. Louis Trust Company. The syndicate would build or buy railroads collectively into the Gulf Coast Lines (GCL). After the Rock Island came under Yoakum control in 1905, it was used to support his acquisition of the T&BV to serve as his connecting railroad between his Frisco and Rock Island lines in north Texas and his GCL lines in south Texas.

The syndicate chartered the SLB&M in 1903. Construction between Houston and Brownsville commenced in 1904 starting at Robstown. Service to Houston using Santa Fe rights from Algoa (near Alvin) began in 1906. The BSL&W, owning only a 20-mile line from Beaumont to Grayburg, was acquired by the GCL in 1905. The GCL directed the BSL&W to continue west from Grayburg to Houston, an extension completed in 1908. Construction of the NOT&M commenced in 1905. Service began in 1909 between DeQuincy and Anchorage (across the river from Baton Rouge.) To avoid bridging the Mississippi River, Yoakum used a ferry to reach Baton Rouge and trackage rights on the Louisiana Railway & Navigation (LRN) Co. from there to New Orleans. Rights from Beaumont to DeQuincy (via Mauriceville) on KCS , and more critically, the use of KCS' bridge over the Neches River in Beaumont, gave the GCL a continuous line from Brownsville to New Orleans. Those KCS rights remain in use today.

The T&BV was acquired in August, 1905. Construction to Teague was initiated in 1906, and from there, north and south to Dallas and Houston, respectively. The main line was completed in 1907. At Houston, HB&T construction began in 1906 or 1907, with the North Belt finished in time for T&BV trains to use it. East Belt construction met the BSL&W in 1908, and then continued around the east side of Houston between 1910 and 1912. Besides the aforementioned rights on other railroads, gaps were also filled by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas [MKT] (Waxahachie to Dallas), the GH&SA (Houston to Galveston, where the Port of Galveston was served by Yoakum's GTR), and the Santa Fe (Algoa to Alvin to Houston, and, at least by 1913, Houston to Galveston). The T&BV also had Santa Fe trackage rights from Cleburne to Ft. Worth (not depicted.)

Other Texas railroads in the GCL portfolio prior to its acquisition by MP in 1925 included the Orange & Northwestern, and the San Benito and Rio Grande Valley. The Sugar Land Railway near Houston was acquired by MP and assigned to the GCL in 1926.

The newly chartered HB&T began planning to build tracks in Houston. A line around the east side would serve the rapidly growing industrial port along Buffalo Bayou east of downtown. This "East Belt", however, was not nearly as important to Yoakum as construction of a line north from downtown. The T&BV and BSL&W would soon be arriving in Houston from the northwest (1907) and northeast (1908), respectively, and Yoakum's priority was to build a shared track, the "North Belt", so their trains could access the new passenger station downtown and continue farther south to HB&T's new yard. Santa Fe already had a spur (dating to 1896) that went north from downtown to an interchange with the Houston East & West Texas (HE&WT) Railway a mile north of Buffalo Bayou. Starting there, HB&T built a half mile farther north and crossed the HE&WT, a location that became interlocked as Tower 71. The North Belt continued two miles farther north where it ended, to await the arrival of the T&BV. It is likely that HB&T curved the North Belt tracks to the west and built an additional distance to meet the approaching T&BV.

Yoakum began T&BV construction in 1906, first building 14 miles from Mexia east to the community of Brewer, which Yoakum incorporated as Teague, his mother's maiden name. Teague would become the T&BV's major yard between Dallas and Houston, and it remains an important yard today. From Teague, Yoakum built south, getting within 77 miles of Belt Junction by the end of 1906. In 1907, Yoakum finished the main line construction. He built north from Teague, stopping in Waxahachie where he was able to obtain rights to use the MKT tracks to cover the remaining distance to Dallas. To the south, the T&BV entered Houston from the northwest and turned due east toward Belt Junction where it met the HB&T to access the city. Service between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston/Galveston began immediately over the new main line which, due to its lower grades and fewer curves, was faster and less expensive to operate than SP's competing route via Hearne. SP retaliated by building a new line that literally paralleled T&BV's tracks for 42 miles (!), but that's another story...

The BSL&W had also been bought by Yoakum in 1905 and had been assigned to the GCL. A year earlier, the BSL&W had completed its only rail line, 20 miles from Beaumont to Grayburg, a settlement one mile south of the town of Sour Lake. The line's purpose was to use Beaumont as the processing and shipping point for oil coming out of the booming Sour Lake oil field, but Yoakum had other ideas for the BSL&W's tracks; they already covered a quarter of the distance from Beaumont to Houston, and he needed a route east from Houston. At Beaumont, the GCL negotiated trackage rights on the Kansas City Southern (KCS) to DeQuincy, Louisiana, and from there, GCL was building its own NOT&M route to New Orleans (which included a Mississippi River ferry at Baton Rouge and trackage rights from there to New Orleans.) Completing the BSL&W's remaining distance into Houston would eventually give Yoakum continuous service from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston to New Orleans on the GCL, which was accomplished by 1909.

To meet the BSL&W in 1908, a switch was added at the north end of the North Belt from which a track curving to the east was built. This was essentially the northern terminus of what would become the East Belt. Given HB&T's long range plans, it's likely that an east/west "straight through" track was also built at this time. The resulting triangle of tracks ultimately became known as Belt Junction. The track to the east crossed both the I-GN, where Tower 80 would be installed, and the HE&WT, where Tower 76 was commissioned in late 1908. For the I-GN crossing, Tower 80 first appeared in RCT's tower list in 1910, but with no operational date. Tower 80 was finally approved on July 25, 1913 by RCT with a 14-function mechanical interlocker. Since only 14 functions were required, it is likely that the Tower 80 interlocker controlled the HB&T/I-GN diamond and little else (the minimum interlocker configuration for a simple crossing was generally twelve functions: four home signals, four distant signals, and four derails.)

RCT's October 31, 1913 list of approved interlockers identified Tower 80's location as "Houston", with no additional detail. A 1915 report changed the location to "Percival". Later reports also cite the location as "Houston, Percival" and "Percival (Houston)." This reference is associated with I-GN's Percival Yard (originally "Percival Avenue Yard", the street no longer exists) located immediately south of Tower 80. Although Belt Junction and Tower 80 were synonymous in later years, it did not begin that way; RCT's published lists never used Belt Junction as a reference for Tower 80's location. The connotation of Belt Junction was the intersection of the East Belt and North Belt which initially was very close to, but entirely west of, Tower 80.

Left: At the north end of the North Belt, it's likely that the HB&T curved west to connect with the approaching T&BV in late 1907. To meet the arriving BSL&W in 1908, the north part of the East Belt was built across both the I-GN (Tower 80) and the HE&WT (Tower 76). The Passenger Main connecting track (pink) for I-GN trains that crossed at Belt Jct. (the route Barriger took) was likely built when the US Railroad Administration moved I-GN's passenger services to Union Station during World War I. It was an expedient solution to get I-GN passenger trains to/from Union Station, but had the negative impact of a second diamond a hundred yards west of Tower 80. It wasn't used for freight; HB&T had a better I-GN freight connection south of downtown which included a connection with the Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) Railroad.

In 1926, RCT's published list shows that Tower 80's functions suddenly increased to 23. In 1925, MP had taken ownership of I-GN and become half-owner of HB&T, so this likely reflected expanded interlocker controls desired by MP. By 1951, I-GN's Passenger Main connection (pink) was gone, replaced by a new connection (yellow) at Percival Yard. It is likely that new connectors were added in the northeast and southeast quadrants at Tower 80 at the same time. This would allow HB&T switchers and intercity I-GN freight trains to reach MP's new Settegast Yard which had opened by the end of 1951. The North Belt then became exclusively the Passenger Main to Union Station (industries would still be served by HB&T switchers.) Aerial imagery from 1944 shows very little activity at Percival Yard despite a large number of tracks. It was likely abandoned soon thereafter in favor of Settegast Yard, ensuring that the new Passenger Main connection would not have interference from freight yard operations.

When East Belt construction resumed southeast from the BSL&W connection c.1910, the result was Gulf Coast Jct., named for the GCL trains that used the BSL&W tracks. The East Belt curved south and ultimately southwest forming a semi-circular route around the eastern part of the city. Towers 86 and 87 along this path were commissioned in April, 1911, followed by Tower 85 in May, 1911. The south end of the East Belt terminated at HB&T's New South Yard (Tower 117) south of downtown.

At MP's request, Tower 80 took over remote control of Tower 76's interlocker in 1930.
Above: Looking east at Tower 80 from Hardy Rd. in January, 1949 (courtesy, Greg Johnson) Above: the newer Tower 80 building, March 1980 (courtesy, Tom Kline)

 

Left and Below: These excerpts are from an article in the 1935 edition of Railway Signaling and Communications that was written by an MP signals engineer. The article described the consolidation of interlockers that occurred in north Houston beginning in 1928, and it explains why the controls for Tower 76 were incorporated into Tower 80 rather than making Tower 76 an automatic interlocker.


By 1914, Yoakum's takeover of the T&BV had proven to be financially improvident. Outside of Houston and Dallas, neither the main line nor the branch from Teague to Cleburne had much population, so there was little local demand for freight or passenger service. And the few towns of even modest size all had better rail alternatives: Mexia (SP), Hillsboro (MKT), Cleburne (Santa Fe), and Corsicana (SP). This left the T&BV almost entirely dependent on Houston - Dallas/Ft. Worth traffic which was insufficient since SP, MP and Santa Fe also served the market. The T&BV went into bankruptcy, finally emerging in 1930 as a newly organized company, the Burlington - Rock Island (B-RI) Railroad. The B-RI's ownership was split equally between Burlington, which had bought the C&S in 1908, and Rock Island. Various shared operations and management arrangements for the B-RI were used over the decades to the benefit of both owners. Ultimately, the main line became part of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), which continues to operate it today (the Teague - Cleburne branch was abandoned in stages between 1932 and 1976.)

Did the T&BV build all the way to Belt Junction in 1907, or did it meet HB&T somewhere west of Belt Junction? If it was west of Belt Jct., there might have been historical switching rights resulting from the actual meeting point of the T&BV and the HB&T. Tom Kline reports that a 1973 Rock Island track chart in his collection shows the B-RI ending 3.4 miles west of Tower 80 at B-RI milepost 60.65, with the remaining distance to Tower 80 marked as "HB&T". Tom explains:

"Operationally speaking, the tower was where the terminal began and ended for the B-RI. ... As to a distinct line of demarcation to where the T&BV stopped, it was always referred to generally as North Shepherd Drive by the B-RI guys. On the days I did work on the North Houston Switcher out of the North Houston Yard at West Little York Road, they [B-RI] never worked any customer farther south than Oak Forrest Drive. There were several spurs between Shepherd and Yale Streets feeding local shippers and HB&T served them so I guess those were historical switching rights."

At least in recent times, there do not appear to have been any spurs between Oak Forrest Dr. and North Shepherd Dr., a distance of ~ 1.5 miles. So, if the switching rights related to the original construction, the T&BV and the HB&T would have met somewhere in this vicinity, with North Shepherd Dr. being about 3.5 miles west of Belt Junction, consistent with the 3.4 mile distance on Tom's Rock Island track chart.

Left: This aerial image from 1953 ((c) historicaerials.com) shows two new tracks added to the junction after 1944: a double track in the NE quadrant and a single track in the SE quadrant. The original tower is not apparent and was probably gone. Belt Jct. operations had been moved to a new Tower 80 (red circle) located north of the East Belt tracks, about 125 yards east of the I-GN/HB&T diamond (green circle). This new building is shown in Tom Kline's photo above. Personnel reached it on a dirt road (light blue arrow) that came from a residential street to the south. Tom discusses the new tower building...

"...the location was referred to as 'Tower NX' at one time...a holdover from the telegraph days. NX was the call sign of the interlocker. We never called it that but some of the old heads did. The tower was razed in 1985, and video cameras were put in at the east switch of the plant to OS and record car numbers of passing trains."

The lead into the Koppers creosote yard remained intact in 1953, as it did until the site was abandoned in the 1980s. Across from it, coming off the east connector to the East Belt, a remnant of the grade of the original Passenger Main connector for I-GN (that Barriger used) is visible (yellow). That connector (and its diamond with the East Belt) had been removed when the new Passenger Main connector at Percival Yard was installed, at least by 1951 and probably earlier. The Belt Jct. east connector was still intact even though it had been rendered obsolete by the new SE connector. The Belt Jct. west connector was still needed for B-RI passenger trains.

In the late 50s or early 60s, a new SW connector was installed closer to the diamond, and the east and west Belt Jct. connectors were removed, the last of the original Belt Jct. connecting tracks. This freed up most of the original Belt Jct. real estate as the junction was effectively merged into Tower 80. The new SW connector preserved B-RI access to the Passenger Main and was substantially closer to the new tower.


MP had opened Settegast Yard at least by the end of 1951 to be its primary Houston freight yard. It was located four miles east of Tower 80, sitting between MP's ex-BSL&W tracks and the East Belt. Intercity MP trains using the I-GN tracks would take the northeast connector behind the new Tower 80 building when accessing Settegast Yard. The southeast connector would facilitate access by HB&T switchers serving industries along the I-GN line. An HB&T map from 1974 labels the former I-GN line south of Belt Junction through Tower 210, Tower 26 and the I-GN bridge over Buffalo Bayou as the "Freight Subdivision", distinguished from the North Belt Subdivision via Towers 71, 26 and 139.

In the late 50s or early 60s, the original east and west connectors at Belt Jct. were removed. The east connector had been obsoleted several years earlier by the southeast connector, but the west connector was still in use for B-RI passenger trains. It was replaced by a new southwest quadrant connector so B-RI passenger trains could retain Passenger Main access. The abandonment freed up significant real estate and allowed removal of the west connector switch from the Passenger Main near the former Percival Yard. The new southwest connector was also much closer to the new Tower 80. The Hardy Toll Rd. was built in the mid 1980s along the former I-GN right-of-way (ROW) south of Spring. Part of the former west connector ROW was used to allow the road to swing west to avoid passing directly over Belt Jct./Tower 80.

Tom Kline recalls Tower 80 operations from the early 1980s:

The southeast connector was used by trains off the I-GN Freight Main, usually stuff coming out of downtown (Congress Yard, off the GH&H from Galveston, transfers, etc.) or traffic going into downtown, but it never saw the frequency of movements that the dual connectors did on the northeast quadrant. A few trains would roll straight north or south on the old I-GN Palestine Sub, but not many as I remember. The MPís main artery was the east-west line to Settegast, then diverting onto the Palestine Sub which seemed to get all the traffic.

Tom reports that Tower 80 records show 18 passenger trains per day in 1952; some undetermined number of these were B-RI trains using the southwest connector. With the demise of passenger trains when Amtrak was created in 1971, the southwest connector became virtually abandoned. It now appears to have been rejuvenated somewhat, most likely as a result of a restructuring of HB&T's north/south traffic flow. In the early 1990s, HB&T's former North Belt (Passenger Main) between Tower 71 and Belt Jct. was abandoned, replaced by a double track routed from Tower 71 to Tower 210 and then back onto the original I-GN ROW to Tower 80.

The southwest connector off the HB&TĎs B-RI connecting western line was for passenger trains to get to Union Station.  I remember it being in place but darned near abandoned and never used. There was another leg [the east connector at Belt Jct.] off this connector going back to the HB&T to form a wye (which was pulled up after passenger service) and I recall one of the old B-RI guys telling me they wyed passenger trains there at Tower 80 and backed into Union Station. Not sure if that was Std. Operating Procedure or occasional.  Iím not sure what the last train was to use the Passenger Main to Union Station since, just before Amtrak, the only passenger trains running were the ATSF and SP on (mostly) their own tracks. ... Currently for Amtrakís operation of the Sunset Ltd., all trains use the Sunset Route to the west of Houston and depending on traffic levels use either the BSL&W route east or the old SP Sunset Route to Beaumont. Right now it seems the BSL&W sees the most trains in both directions but it varies. The BNSF and KCS use the ex-SP line to Beaumont the most in both directions while UP favors the BSL&W for through movements, but it all depends on congestion in and between the two terminals.

I-GN continued to operate under its own name and it subsequently incurred yet another lengthy receivership (as did other components of MP's system.) When the bankruptcy finally settled, MP was reorganized and the I-GN was merged into it in 1956. From the early 1980s through the 1990s, there were substantial ownership, track and roadway changes that affected Belt Jct. Union Pacific (UP) took over MP, becoming a half-owner of HB&T. The other half owner is Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), successor to Santa Fe and Burlington Northern, each of which owned 25%.

Additional Photos by Tom Kline

Tom writes: "A northbound MP freight waits for a clearance card to be written up at the TO office on one of the connector tracks in the northeast quadrant of the junction leading to the Palestine Sub. Notice this connector is double track. Also notice the homemade order stand under the floodlight on the engineer's side of the loco. There were three of these in this area next to the office. They could hold a total of four train order forks each."
Tom writes: "A horribly blurry shot looking west from the train order office down the HB&T/B-RI main of a MP freight grabbing orders while headed north off the "Passenger Main" - now the West Belt - and onto the Palestine Sub. This is a short telephoto shot and as you can see, the office was a good ways away from the diamond. I ran down to hang these orders and shot this view out the west window of the office. Notice the train order signal by the diamond for the north-south main. In the distance is a bulkhead flat car sitting on the lead into the Koppers creosote plant which occupied the northwest corner of the crossing."
Tom writes: "That's me handing up wheel reports to the conductor of a Teague-bound train on the B-RI passing the Tower 80 office. Notice the connector track in the background, occupying the southeast quadrant of the plant."
Tom writes: "On the inside of the two connector tracks to the Palestine Sub a northbound eases past after grabbing orders. Notice the High-Speeder order post to the right which replaced the home made stand seen in the night photo above."


Above Left: 2018 satellite image of Belt Jct.  Above Right: This 2019 Google Street View looks up the dirt road that led to the brick building at Belt Jct. The building was across the tracks from the green cabinet. Below: 2019 elevated Google Street View east toward Belt Jct. from the Hardy Toll Rd.


Two 2019 views from the Hardy Rd. grade crossing at Belt Jct.: west (above) and east (below) (Google Street View)

 
Last Revised: 2/13/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.