Texas Railroad History - Tower 193 - Sinton

A Crossing of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway and the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad

Above Left: John W. Barriger III took this photo from the rear platform of his business car as he passed southbound through Sinton in the late 1930's or early 1940's. Barriger's view is to the northeast along the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico (SLB&M) Railway, his photo no doubt prompted by the sudden appearance of the crossing of a San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) rail line. Above Right: As this was prior to the installation of an automatic interlocker in 1947, the SA&AP crossing is protected by the manual gate visible to the left of the diamond in this magnified view, with the tall pole being the hinge post. An angle arm is visible descending from near the top hinge down to the outside extent of the horizontal gate bar, and it appears to be casting a narrow linear shadow onto the bottom of the hinge pole. In front of the pole from this angle, the smaller white post is the latch point for the gate closed against the SA&AP. An equivalent latch post is across the tracks to the right so the gate can be latched against the SLB&M when SA&AP trains need to cross. (John W Barriger III National Railroad Library)

Sinton was founded in 1886, shortly after the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway passed through the area as it constructed a line from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. Land for a townsite was provided by the Coleman - Fulton Pasture Company, so the town was named for the company's majority stockholder, David Sinton, a Cincinnati investor, purportedly the richest man in Ohio. In 1894, Sinton became the seat of San Patricio County, but it remained simply a tiny community on the arid plain of south Texas, about thirty miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico at Port Aransas. When the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico (SLB&M) Railway built through Sinton in 1904, the population still hadn't reached 100, but by 1910, the town had a bank, a hotel, a newspaper and several businesses.

                        Railway Age, November 6, 1903
The SLB&M's grading work between Sinton and Robstown had been completed by November, 1903. Track-laying was nearing completion a year later, and operations began in early 1905.
Railway Age, December 23, 1904

The railroads crossed at Sinton in an X-pattern, with the SA&AP line running northwest - southeast and the SLB&M line running northeast - southwest. To the northwest, the SA&AP tracks went to San Antonio where the construction of the line to the coast had begun. Southeast of Sinton, the SA&AP tracks went to Gregory and Portland, and then crossed over Corpus Christi Bay to serve the port of Corpus Christi. An extension from Gregory to Aransas Pass and Rockport was built in 1888. The SLB&M line was part of a major route between Brownsville and Houston via Algoa. In 1925, the SLB&M became owned by Missouri Pacific (MP), the same year that the SA&AP came under Southern Pacific (SP) ownership.

Above: This snippet from a 1910 map of the SA&AP route network (courtesy Texas Transportation Archive) shows "SINTON" in all capital letters, for no apparent reason. By this time, the SLB&M line had been operating for several years and is shown passing through Sinton.

The SP/MP crossing at Sinton had never been interlocked but a gate had been installed. When railroad crossings in Texas began to be regulated for safety purposes by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) in 1901, the railroads were ordered to install gates at all crossings until RCT could mandate interlockers for specific crossings on a prioritized basis. The idea was to spread out the timing of interlocker installations to give RCT engineers adequate opportunity to review each plan while also reducing the immediate financial impact on the railroads. Regardless of the gate position, all trains were still required to stop before proceeding over the diamond at a gated crossing. Eventually, this policy changed as a result of the involvement of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), to which Congress had granted national authority for railroad safety. The Signal Inspection Act passed by Congress in 1937 specifically granted the ICC authority over crossings, and it appears that at least by this timeframe (if not earlier), trains were allowed to proceed over the diamond of a properly gated crossing without stopping, but only by approaching the diamond at restricted speed so that there would be sufficient time to stop if the gate was closed against them. One example of this "restricted speed" rule for gated crossings is in the ICC's 1941 order approving a gate to replace the automatic interlocker at Tower 175.

San Patricio County commerce was largely driven by ranching until oil was discovered in 1935. The oil boom caused refineries and other facilities to locate along the nearby bays, increasing rail traffic. By the mid 1940s, traffic levels through Sinton justified installation of an automatic interlocker, formally designated as Tower 193 by RCT in 1947.

Left Top
: The March 22, 1947 issue of
Railway Age reported that an automatic interlocking plant and associated signals had been ordered from General Railway Signaling Company for the crossing at Sinton. The SLB&M was the busier railroad through Sinton and they undoubtedly took responsibility for maintaining the interlocker; the recurring maintenance expenses would be shared by both railroads.

Right: A Southern Pacific Employee Timetable issued in December, 1947 provided rules pertaining to operation of the new automatic interlocking at "West Sinton". Oddly, SP reserved "Sinton" for the location of the passenger depot which was about 0.4 miles northwest of the crossing, i.e. "Sinton" was west of "West Sinton".

Left Bottom
: This 1951 image ((c) historicaerials.com) of the Tower 193 crossing shows the 6 x 8 ft. steel bungalow on the north side of the diamond casting a shadow to the northwest. A cabinet remained in this spot at least through March, 2006.

SP's access into Corpus Christi from Sinton via Gregory and Portland used their bridge over Corpus Christi Bay. The bridge had been problematic from the beginning, subject to frequent damage from tropical storms and requiring a drawbridge to allow water traffic to pass. In November, 1964, the ICC approved a plan to allow SP to abandon the bridge and access Corpus Christi using trackage rights on MP from Sinton. SP trains would use the west quadrant connector at Tower 193 for movements between their tracks to San Antonio and MP's tracks south of Sinton to Odem where MP's line from San Antonio crossed leading into Corpus Christi. The west quadrant connector dated back to at least 1922, where it and the south quadrant connector both appear on the first Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Sinton.

In 1987, a derailment on SP's tracks near San Antonio caused a bridge failure that hastened SP's decision to abandon the line to Sinton. By 1995, it was completely abandoned from the southeast outskirts of San Antonio to the northwest edge of Sinton. Southeast of Sinton, SP's tracks remained operational, and they were soon owned by Union Pacific (UP) which acquired SP in 1996. As UP had also acquired MP (in 1982), it owned both rail lines through Sinton. The diamond in Sinton along with connecting tracks in both the south and west quadrants remained in place after the 1995 abandonment. The west quadrant connecting track led to the former SP yard and industries along the main track extending to about two miles northwest of Sinton. The diamond had been removed by October, 2005, but the west quadrant and two miles of track to the northwest remained intact as of March, 2006, and the interlocker bungalow was still sitting trackside north of the diamond. Satellite imagery confirms that these tracks had been completely removed by April, 2008, along with the interlocker equipment and signals. The south quadrant connector remains in place to serve industries toward Gregory and Aransas Pass. The former SLB&M line is part of a major artery from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston and continues to carry substantial traffic for UP and for the two major railroads that have trackage rights through Sinton: Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Kansas City Southern.

Below: a recent 3D image of the Tower 193 crossing (Google Maps)


Above Left: This is the view in Sinton c.2001 along the SA&AP line looking northwest toward the diamond. At that time, the tracks remained in place across the diamond after abandonment to allow access to the "old SP yard" which was still in use northwest of the crossing. Above Right: This corresponding view southwest along the SLB&M line shows two connecting tracks in the distance. The one at right is the west connector which has since been removed. The one to the left is the connector in the south quadrant that remains in use today (Carl Codney photos) Below Left: This 2011 Google Street View looking northwest from Ave. D shows the south connector curving to the left to join the former SLB&M line to the southwest. The SP right-of-way that originally continued straight ahead is no longer apparent. Below Right: Everett DeGolyer, Jr. took this photo of the SA&AP passenger depot at Sinton on June 6, 1962. SP had been using the building for decades; it is no longer standing. (DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)

Last Revised: 11/7/2022 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.