Texas Railroad History - Tower 197 - Robstown

A Crossing of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Texas Mexican Railway

In 1878, the Corpus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad began construction of a line west from Corpus Christi, a port on the Gulf of Mexico. By the time Laredo was reached in 1881, the railroad's name had changed to the Texas Mexican (TM) Railway. Soon, the Rio Grande river was bridged and the line became an important transportation artery for trade between Mexico and Corpus Christi. At the time, the only other railroad in the area was the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad which arrived in Laredo the same year with a line from San Antonio, Austin and points north. Along the coast, there were no other rail lines as far south as Corpus Christi, so the TM's east/west route remained isolated. This changed when the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway reached TM rails in Alice in 1888, giving TM an outlet to the north that competed with the I-GN. Although much has changed with the TM, including conversion to standard gauge in 1902 and various ownership modifications, it continues to operate by that name on the original route between Laredo and Corpus Christi, now as a subsidiary of Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railway.

By the 1890s, the commercial opportunity presented by the lower Rio Grande Valley as a "Winter Garden" for growing fruits and vegetables was beginning to be realized, but transportation was the limiting factor. Lon Hill, a lawyer and developer, operated a rice plantation near Brownsville and he began to promote the idea of getting a railroad into the Valley. B. F. Yoakum's Gulf Coast Lines, under the charter of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico (SLB&M) Railway, collected a bonus that Hill and other businessmen offered by constructing a line from Robstown into Brownsville in 1904, a distance of 141 miles. Robstown wasn't really a town at the time, merely a real estate opportunity recognized by developer George Paul, figuring that the junction of the two railroads was likely to bring population and commerce. Robstown was named for Robert Driscoll, a noted landowner and businessman in the Corpus Christi area, and an early investor in the SLB&M. The SLB&M's connection with the TM provided an outlet for Valley agricultural products to the north via TM's connection with the SA&AP in Alice, and via the Port of Corpus Christi. But the SLB&M had bigger plans, and proceeded to complete the line from Robstown all the way to Algoa near Houston. The SLB&M's connection with the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway at Tower 65 in Algoa provided access into Houston and beyond, where connections to other Gulf Coast Lines were available.

So, by 1906, the SLB&M had a main line from Algoa, near Houston, to Harlingen and Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley. This line is now owned by Union Pacific (UP) and continues to see significant traffic. Meanwhile, the TM has operated their main line from Corpus Christi to Laredo continuously since 1881. These two lines crossed in Robstown in 1904, and the crossing remains as busy as ever today. Yet, for unknown reasons (which would be interesting to discover), this crossing was not interlocked for nearly fifty years. Interlockers were established at numerous other lines that crossed the SLB&M, but Robstown was omitted until sometime between 1950 and 1952 when Tower 197 was commissioned by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT). By that time, the Gulf Coast Lines including the SLB&M had been acquired by Missouri Pacific (MP), which became the TM's official interlocker partner. We have no other information about this interlocking plant, only its number!

Above: A connector track at the Tower 197 crossing allows traffic from Laredo to proceed north on UP's route to Houston, and southbound traffic from Houston to go west on the TM to Laredo. This was built when KCS acquired the TM; KCS has trackage rights on UP from Victoria south to Robstown via Bloomington. Below: This Google Street View image in Robstown looks south along UP's main track to Harlingen. The TM crosses the Tower 197 diamonds in the foreground. Just beyond the equipment cabinets near the center of the image, the connector for traffic to Laredo is visible as it begins to curve to the right toward its connection with the TM about 4/10ths of a mile west.

Last Revised: 2/7/2018 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.