Junctions of the Southern Pacific and Texas & Pacific railroads on the Dallas Belt Line
Dallas Railroads c.1927
Timeline of Operations on the
Completed Dallas Belt Line
George Kessler moved to Dallas as a young child with his family, arriving in 1865. A native of Germany, he went back to Europe for university studies and then returned to the United States, becoming a renowned city planner and landscape architect. He had the opportunity to assist the city of his childhood when, in 1909, Dallas civic leaders hired him to create a comprehensive development plan for Dallas. One impetus for the plan was the massive Trinity River flood of 1908 which left 2,000 people homeless, destroyed the drinking water system, and fostered a malaria epidemic. Railroads figured prominently in the resulting Kessler Plan for Dallas which included a proposed Union Passenger Station at the west end of downtown, and a new "belt line" railroad around the south and east sides of town. The belt line would eliminate through trains on downtown streets which had become a significant safety hazard due to the growing population. Portions of the Kessler Plan were implemented over a long period of time, and it was not until the 1920s that the Dallas Belt Line was constructed to provide a rail bypass for Dallas.
Dallas' growth had largely been a result of its location at the crossing of the north/south Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railroad and the east/west Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railroad. The H&TC came under the control of Southern Pacific (SP) in 1883. By the time the Kessler Plan was developed, SP also had a line into Dallas from the southeast, owned by the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, SP's primary operating subsidiary for Texas and Louisiana. While the H&TC crossed the eastern edge of downtown Dallas, the T&P ran along Pacific Ave. through the heart of the central business district. As illustrated by the map at right, construction of the Dallas Belt Line (solid black line) allowed portions of the SP and T&P main lines (dashed lines) to be degraded to spur status or eventually abandoned.
The first phase of Belt Line construction in 1919-1920 was to build the T&P bypass south of downtown between Forest Ave. (a location near Tower 19) and "T&P Junction", a new connection on the east side of town. Union Station (between Towers 106 and 107) had opened in 1916, and existing tracks were available between Union Station and Forest Ave. Union Station also provided access to the T&P main line to the west. Near where the new construction crossed the H&TC main line, two new control points were established. "Metzger" was a switch west of the H&TC crossing, and "Belt Jct." was a switch for accessing the H&TC main line to the south. East of the H&TC main, the bypass crossed the T&NO line to Beaumont at a location called "Briggs". From the diamond at Briggs, the bypass continued about 3/4ths of a mile north to the T&P main line at T&P Junction. In addition to allowing T&P to eliminate its tracks on Pacific Ave., this new line provided a route for SP trains into Union Station from points south. Noted SP historian and author Dave Bernstein provides the details in an email...
"The first Southern Pacific timetable to
include this line was Dallas Division No. 181, effective October 1, 1920. There
was no signal system or interlockings in service. The switches at Forest Avenue
were handled by a switch tender; the switches at Metzger, Belt Junction and
Briggs were handled by trainmen. The railroad crossings at grade with the
Denison Subdivision (H&TC main line) at Belt Junction and the Beaumont-Galveston
Division at Briggs were not interlocked. Effective with timetable No. 181,
Beaumont-Galveston Division passenger trains 147-148-155-156 began accessing
Union Station via the Belt Line. The only regular trains crossing the diamond at
Briggs were Beaumont-Galveston Division freight trains 165-166-167-168 which
began using the Belt Line in 1926.
Effective with issuance of Dallas Division Timetable No. 183 on July 31, 1921, the Texas & Pacific Railroad began using the Belt Line to T&P Junction which removed their operation on Pacific Avenue in Dallas. An interlocking office was established at Metzger, 0.34 miles west of Belt Junction at the east end of double track from Forest Avenue. The operator controlled four power switches. At this time the switches at Forest Avenue, Briggs and T&P Junction were hand operated and the crossings at Belt Junction and Briggs were not interlocked. Train order offices were established at Metzger, Briggs and T&P Junction. Regular trains between Belt Junction and T&P Junction consisted of four T&NO Beaumont-Galveston Division passenger trains (via Briggs) and eight T&P passenger trains (via T&P Junction). Freight trains and switch engines operated as extra trains."
The 1922 Sanborn map of Dallas shows two parallel tracks from Tower 19 to Belt Junction. The north track is labeled "SP" and the south track is labeled "CRI&G" (Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf), neither of which appears on the next earlier map (1905). At Belt Junction, the map shows the Rock Island (yellow) track curving south onto the SP main while the SP track curves east and is labeled "Southern Pacific RR (T&P - T&NO)". It is not clear why the Rock Island track from Tower 19 to Belt Junction was built since Rock Island used Katy's tracks to operate south of Tower 19 to Waxahachie. It could also be a map error. If anyone knows the details, please contact us.
Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records show H&TC building 8.9 miles of track in 1926 attributed to "Dallas Belt Line". This was the final phase of construction extending from T&P Junction north to the re-connection with the H&TC main line at "Gifford". This was also the year that Towers 118 and 119 were opened to manage the two major junctions created by the Belt Line. RCT's published list of interlocking towers dated December 31, 1926 identifies Tower 118 as "Dallas, Metzger Junction", and Tower 119 as "East Dallas". The Belt Line crossings of the Santa Fe (red) and the Katy (green) north of T&P Jct. were grade separated and did not have towers. The diamond at Briggs was eliminated, replaced by connector tracks in the southeast and southwest quadrants, with signals controlled by the Tower 119 operator. Dave Bernstein explains...
"Dallas Division Timetable No. 196 issued
April 4, 1926, was the first with the entire Dallas Belt completed from Forest
Avenue to Gifford. Fox siding was now in service. At this time, regular trains
were four Beaumont Division passenger trains between Forest Avenue and Briggs,
eight Texas & Pacific Railway passenger trains between Forest Avenue and T&P
Junction, and two Dallas Division freight trains between Belt Junction and
Gifford. During 1926, automatic block signals were installed between Belt Jct.
and T&P Jct. and two interlocking towers were constructed at a cost of
approximately $100,000 ($1.16 million in 2007 dollars). Tower 118 (Belt
Junction) was in service September 24, 1926, a 40-lever electric machine
controlling Metzger, Belt Junction, the crossing of original H&TC mainline with
the Belt Line, and both ends of Fox siding. Tower 118 was established as a train
order office replacing Metzger. Technically, Belt Junction was south of Tower
118 at the bottom of an inverted triangle where the west leg to Metzger/Forest
Avenue and the east leg to Briggs/T&P Junction joined the original H&TC line.
Metzger no longer appeared in timetables beginning with No. 198 in November,
Tower 119 (T&P Junction) was in service May 18, 1926 with a 48-lever electric machine controlling signals and switches at T&P Jct. and Briggs. The crossing at Briggs was retired...and the southeast connection to the Beaumont Division was interlocked. The southwest connection to the former Beaumont Division main track to Dallas was a hand operated switch with an absolute signal controlled by Tower 119. Tower 119 and Briggs continued as train order offices. In later years T&P Junction was renamed MP Jct. and later UP Jct.
By November 1927, the Belt Line was handling an average of 68 through train movements and 35 switch engine movements daily. All T&P movements had been shifted off the original main line which was partially retained as an industry lead. SP had moved all traffic from the original H&TC mainline between Dallas and Gifford to the Belt Line except switch engines. Passenger trains 19 and 20, the Central Express operating between Houston and Denison, were operated over the Katy between Dallas Union Station and Tower 35 (H&TC MP 268.5), then on the original mainline 4.5 miles to Gifford."
As the H&TC main line north of Belt Jct. was degraded to spur status and eventually abandoned, Tower 10 saw a substantial reduction in traffic which allowed it to be closed as a manned tower in 1933. Its interlocker remained in place, controlled by Tower 19. Tower 22 and Tower 35 saw similar fates, although we do not know the precise dates.
Tower 119 was closed in 1989 followed by Tower 118 a few years later. Two competing trends were occurring in the 1980s and 1990s that greatly affected Dallas' rail topology, particularly the Belt Line. Burlington Northern merged with Santa Fe creating BNSF while Union Pacific (UP) acquired Missouri Pacific, Katy and SP. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system was established, and DART needed rights-of-way while UP and BNSF had excess rights-of-way due to various route alternatives created by their acquisitions. Also, Kansas City Southern (KCS) entered the Dallas market by purchasing selected Santa Fe and SP (ex-Cotton Belt) tracks, and other Santa Fe facilities. The end result was a plan that eliminated the need for the Belt Line between Gifford and the grade-separated Santa Fe crossing north of T&P Jct. This portion of the Belt Line was sold to DART and abandoned, and the crossing was reworked into a single direct connection between the Belt Line to the south and the Santa Fe tracks to the northeast (now owned by KCS). The Santa Fe line southwest of the crossing was abandoned. This resulted in a route for KCS to reach Union Station from northeast Dallas via the remaining portion of the Belt Line.Historic Photos - Tower 118, Belt Junction
Above left: The east side of Tower 118 had a footbridge that allowed operators to cross a creek to reach the tracks and hand
paper orders up to passing train crews. (Myron Malone photo, December 28, 1981) Above right: This photo was taken after
the abandoned tower had been partially destroyed by fire. The railroad removed the remainder of the structure sometime
after 1996. (Bob LaPrelle photo)
Below: Undated photo by Robbie Patterson (courtesy of Mark St. Aubin)
Below: This Microsoft Virtual Earth "Bird's Eye View" facing west at the former
site of Tower 118 shows the concrete pad for the
tower still intact. The footbridge is gone, but a small ravine is visible between the tower pad and the tracks.
Historic Photos - Tower 119, T&P Junction
Above left: Standing on the shared SP/T&P main line looking north toward T&P Junction, the track departing to the right (east)
passes Tower 119 and connects to the original T&P main line. Above right: Tower 119 was not located at the crossing diamond.
It was located where the Dallas Belt Line met the connector track for the T&P main line to the east (visible behind the tower). This
view is south along the Belt Line. The track in the foreground is the connector for the spur to Fair Park on the former T&P main to the west.
(Both photos by Myron Malone, December 28, 1981)
Above: This is the view a westbound T&P train would have nearing Tower 119 to join the Dallas Belt
Line southbound. (Myron Malone photo, December 28, 1981)
Below: This Bird's Eye View of T&P Junction shows a building in approximately the same location
and orientation as the building in the above photo adjacent to the tower. The right lead connects
to the original T&P main line eastbound. The center track is the Dallas Belt Line heading north,
and the left hand track goes to the original T&P main line westbound which was relegated to
industrial trackage and also used for access to the railroad museum at Fair Park.
Satellite Images, T&P Jct. and Belt Jct.
Above: Satellite view of T&P Junction. The east/west T&P main is abandoned across the diamond.
Below: The tracks at Belt Jct. form an inverted triangle.