Freight Car Friday – Freight Cars of Houston

10 01 2014

This week we travel south with the World’s Greatest Hobby tour to Houston. And judging from the rail action down here, it certainly does seem that everything is bigger in Texas!

plastics hopper

Modern plastics and dry-chemical covered hoppers come in a great variety of sizes and designs. You’ll find many on a trip around Houston.

Today Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern and BNSF all call on Houston with yards and lines scattered about the city. The scene here however was once much more colorful with lines from the Rock Island, Missouri Kansas and Texas, Southern Pacific and Ft Worth and Denver and many others all coming together in town.

Like Pittsburgh is to steel and Detroit to automotive traffic, Houston is a major hub for the oil and  chemical industries and the freight yards around here show it. Tank cars and covered hoppers of all shapes and sizes dominate the consists of the local freights. Traffic originating here on the Texas “Chemical Coast” has direct outlets to the north, east and west via the network of lines radiating out of the city.


As colorful as today’s railroading scene may be, the number of famous fallen flags is even more impressive.

Serving many local industries along both sides of the shipping channel is the Port Terminal Railroad Association. Formed in 1924, this terminal road handles the delivery / pick up to many local customers and connects them with each of the three major interstate carriers.  This gives each of these customers access to whichever railroad can offer the best rates / service on their products without each road having to send its own tracks or even trains into the congested port area. Operations like this in Houston and elsewhere make tempting model railroad subjects for those interested in switching and operations.


“Where 17 Railroads Meet the Sea” – Houston’s railroads have long been a central part of the city’s personality and pride.

Showing just how much times have changed, while the PTRA connects with all three major rail lines today, in 1924 it worked with 18. The names and number of companies on the map have been redrawn many times since rails first came to the city in 1851, but Houston has always prized railroads as part of its character.

The seal of the city first had the likeness of a locomotive included in 1840 – 11 years before one ever came to town! And today, while passenger trains no longer call on Union Station downtown, the headhouse survives as part of the new home for the Houston Astros.

KCS set

The names have changed, but the railroads serving the city are no less colorful today than ever before.

From the early days until 1961, Texas law required the railroads serving Houston, and operating anywhere within state borders, to be headquartered in Texas. Consequently even as mergers began, many of the familiar names operating into town actually did so as other corporate entities.

While chemical and oil traffic may be the most common commodities on Houston rails today, with its busy port you’ll find an amazing variety of other industries and rail cars coming through town. Grain, finished autos, food products, steel, and of course intermodal containers filled with all kinds of merchandise are all plentiful. The freight car fan will have no trouble catching a great variety of equipment types, road names and paint schemes on a visit to the city.



3 responses

10 01 2014
Andrew Falconer

You can put into production ACF Center Flow 5250 Cu. Ft. Capy. 4-Bay Covered Hoppers painted for ACFX cars leased to Amoco and Phillips Petroleum.

17 01 2014
Conductor Andrew

Reblogged this on theredcaboose1.

29 07 2014
John P&LE

How about, better yet, the classic bobber caboose of the 1890’s!

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