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Steaming Forward

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Steaming Forward

  • The emergence of rail transformed Texas — reflecting deeply held beliefs and ushering in unavoidable conflicts
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BREAKING NEWS: A note informing Governor Richard Hubbard of the 1878 robbery likely perpetrated by the famous outlaw Sam Bass and his gang.
Transcription: Dallas 4/5
Gov. Hubbard:
Texas & Pacific
train was Robbed at Eagle Ford
6 six miles west of Dallas
By four (4) masked men
Last night. Express & mail
cars were Robbed. Passengers
not molested.
Geo [?] Noble

The first operating railroad in Texas powered forward in 1853. The newly rechartered Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway connected a 20-mile stretch between Harrisburg and Stafford’s Point. Although Texas had issued railroad charters as early as 1836, it took nearly two decades for railroad construction to begin.

The Buffalo Bayou railway started with five passenger cars and 28 freight cars. The earliest passenger service cost about five cents per passenger per mile and about 10 cents per ton per mile for freight service, about half the cost of moving people by coach or moving freight by ox or mule wagon. Passengers could travel at twice the speed by railroad than by coach for short distances. Within a short time, stage coach service ended for towns served by a railroad.

THE RAILROAD COMMISSION of Texas helped transform the state from a resource-filled but isolated frontier to a major economic power.
Founded in 1891 to oversee the development and management of the state’s railway system, the commission emerged from a wave of populist resentment of the railroads and the power, wealth and control its corporate barons wielded.
In a time of enormous change, the Railroad Commission stood at the center of some of the state’s most significant transformations. Its
history reflects some of the most deeply held beliefs in Texas: the sanctity of private property, the right
of the individual to pursue economic freedom, and government’s responsibility to determine and protect the public good.

The inexorable march to transportation modernization quickly brought the potential for vast economic and personal benefit. Along with this new world of possibilities and dreams came conflict: individual rights versus corporate rights; corporate rights versus the public good; and the cloud of corruption and crime.

The compelling narrative of the railroad’s development tells us the history of the state, nation and its people.

From the tales of people staking out new opportunities and connecting with others to the exploits of railroad magnates and the crimes of train robbers, stories and sites connected with Texas railways allow us to explore our history and landscape with a renewed appreciation for the breadth of Texas and the challenge and power of making all parts of the state connected and easily traversable.

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