Three junctions of the International & Great Northern and Southern Pacific railroads in and around Hearne
Hearne remains perhaps the busiest "rural" rail junction in Texas, a
major reason why the surrounding area has historically hosted three
interlockers. Hearne's first railroad was the Houston and Texas Central (H&TC)
Railroad which arrived from the south in 1868 as it built north toward the Red
River. In August, 1870, the International
Railroad was chartered and four months later, it started building east from
Hearne toward Palestine, with plans to connect northeast Texas with
Laredo. In 1873, the International Railroad merged with the Houston & Great
Northern Railroad to form the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad.
In 1881, the I-GN completed the line from Palestine to Laredo via Hearne, Austin
and San Antonio. On
July 16, 1903, Tower 15 was approved by the Railroad Commission to control
the junction of the H&TC and the I-GN in Hearne.
A third railroad, the Hearne & Brazos Valley (H&BV), was chartered in 1891 by local cotton farmers desiring to build a railroad from Moseley's Ferry to Hearne, where connections could be made with other railroads. Moseley's Ferry was located where the Old San Antonio Road crossed the Brazos River (a site now occupied by the State Highway 21 bridge). In 1892, the 16-mile line was completed by H&BV, but instead of going into Hearne, it went north to a connection with the I-GN four miles west of Hearne, a location that became known as Valley Junction. In 1899, the H&BV was almost completely destroyed by a Brazos River flood. When it was rebuilt that same year, the routing was altered. Instead of going to Valley Junction, the north end of the line was re-routed to go directly into Hearne where the H&BV could make connections with both the I-GN and the H&TC.
In 1899, Valley Junction became the crossing location for the Calvert, Waco & Brazos Valley (CW&BV) Railroad as it constructed 66 miles of track between Marlin and Bryan. South of Valley Junction, the CW&BV re-used the abandoned H&BV right-of-way down to the point where the active H&BV line curved northeast toward Hearne, a location known as Tatsie. The CW&BV crossed the H&BV at Tatsie and paralleled it 5.2 miles on a south-southeast heading to the community of Mumford. At Mumford, the CW&BV turned southeast toward Bryan whereas the H&BV turned south to Moseley's Ferry. The CW&BV was acquired by the I-GN in 1901 and the line was extended south from Bryan to Spring where it connected with I-GN's main line from Palestine to Houston. To the north, I-GN extended the line from Marlin to Ft. Worth via Waco, completing a Houston - Ft. Worth main line via Spring. Since Valley Junction had become a crossing of two I-GN main lines, a depot was built for connecting passengers.
The I-GN was acquired by the Missouri Pacific (MP) railroad in 1925 and was fully merged into MP in 1956. Sometime between 1946 and 1950, Tower 194 was established as an automated interlocker to control the crossing at Valley Junction. Although this was not a crossing of two different railroads, railroad companies had begun to solicit approval for any new and modified interlockers as a result of a Railroad Commission policy change in the 1920s. The interlocker controls were most likely located inside the passenger depot, which no longer exists.
In 1914, the H&BV was acquired by Southern Pacific (SP). SP bridged the Brazos River at Stone City (a community near Moseley's Ferry) and the line was extended under the H&TC charter south to Giddings where a connection was made to the San Antonio & Aransas Pass, another SP railroad. This extension became known as the Dalsa Cutoff because it permitted SP's Dallas-San Antonio traffic to bypass Houston via Hearne and Flatonia; the Houston bottleneck had impacted SP's ability to compete for traffic between Memphis and Los Angeles. In 1929, a cabin interlocker designated Tower 140 was established at Tatsie to control the I-GN crossing of the Dalsa Cutoff. All of the lines in the Hearne area remain in use by Union Pacific (UP), successor to the MP and SP systems.
Overview Map, Hearne Area Railroads
Historic Photos, Tower 15 Crossing
Above: This image was taken by John W. Barriger III from the rear of a northbound train on the I-GN tracks at the Tower 15 crossing in Hearne. The photo is undated, but likely dates from the late 20's or early 30's. Facing southwest, the Hearne Union Depot is visible on the left just beyond the H&TC double track line that crosses in the foreground. Significantly, Tower 15 is not visible, indicating that by this date, it had been removed and the interlocker controls relocated to the depot (which displays "15" on the small sign facing the crossing). Tower 15 had been located near the striped pole (with crossbuck on top) visible right of center of the photo, next to a mound of dirt. [credit, John W Barriger III National Railroad Library] Below: Everett L. DeGolyer, Jr. snapped this photo of the Hearne Union Depot on June 9, 1958. As in the above photo, the depot displays the "15" symbol indicating it was hosting the Tower 15 interlocker controls. Tower 15 stood immediately to DeGolyer's right. [DeGolyer Library, SMU]
Tower 15 Crossing (Jim King photo)
Above: An eastbound UP freight on the former I-GN main line from Laredo to Longview crosses the former Tower 15 diamond in front of the abandoned Union Depot in Hearne in August, 1999. Below: The Hearne depot was relocated (yellow) across the highway from the original site (red) and restored as a heritage and history display center that opened in 2011. [Google Earth image]
Below: The 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Hearne shows that Tower 15 was a two-story structure located across the I-GN tracks from the Union Depot. The Barriger photo above shows that it did not remain in place much longer.
Satellite Image, Tower 194, Valley Junction
Satellite Image, Tower 15 Vicinity in Hearne
Satellite Images, Tower 140 Site
Above: These satellite images of the Tatsie crossing show the changes resulting from the 1996 UP/SP merger. Prior to the merger, the UP line (between Bryan and Valley Junction) and SP's Dalsa Cutoff (between Giddings and Hearne) crossed at an acute angle (left, 1995). The merger allowed UP to revise this junction to eliminate the crossing diamond in favor of two switches and a connecting track (right, 2017). The revised design is optimized for traffic flow on the Dalsa Cutoff, while also permitting traffic to flow between Giddings and Valley Junction, and between Hearne and Bryan, if necessary. Traffic flow between Valley Junction and Bryan is not supported.
Brazos Yard Construction
Above: In 2018, UP began construction of Brazos Yard, a 1,875-acre classification yard located between Mumford and Tatsie. Less than a year later, UP unveiled a new strategic plan to use Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), a shift that which would reduce en route car classification activities. UP began reviewing the construction plan for Brazos Yard to determine how it would be used consistent with PSR, and in April, 2019, it officially "paused" construction on Brazos Yard. The satellite images above show the substantial construction that was accomplished before the "pause". [September, 2017 (left) and December, 2019 (right), Google Earth images; map courtesy of Union Pacific]