The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998

A History of the Cane Belt Branch of the Gulf
Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company
WILLIAM S. OSBORN*
AILROADING IS A CAPITAL-AND-HORSEPOWER-INTENSIVE INDUSTRY,
which may seem anachronistic in the age of the "information high-
way." The industry survives because there remains a need to transport
heavy or bulky raw commodities with low value-to-weight ratios, a task
often most efficiently accomplished by rail. The twentieth century
opened in the Southwest with a network of many small independent
short-line railroads that connected to the trunklines of multi-state carri-
ers; the Railroad Commission of Texas counted seventy-two common
carriers active in the state in 1900. By mid-century, ownership of these
lines had been greatly consolidated by the larger multi-state carriers in a
pattern of convergence that continued until 198o, when the United
States Congress passed the Staggers Rail Deregulation Act. By that time
there were only thirty-one railroad companies operating in Texas,
including seven large ones and twenty-four smaller intrastate lines. But
as the twentieth century draws to a close, the pendulum is swinging back
toward a division of branch-line and trunk-line ownership as the larger
carriers divest themselves of many of their smaller feeder line opera-
tions. However, many of the Texas branch lines have not survived; total
statewide trackage has declined from about 15,500 miles in 1950 to
about 12,700 miles in 1995.
The remaining Texas branch lines face two economic problems. The
first relates to the continued use of their larger bridges. These spans
were built when labor was relatively cheap, but under current economic
conditions repairs are quite expensive. Bridge reconstruction cannot
* Willam S. Osborn obtained a B.S. in geology from Brown University in 1981 and aJ.D. from
the University of Texas School of Law in 1984. He was employed in the Oil and Gas Division of
the Railroad Commission of Texas from 1983 to 1989 and presently practices oil and gas law
with the Austin firm of Patman and Osborn. This article is an extract from a work in progress on
the corporate history of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company from its 1873 incorpo-
ration in Galveston to its dissolution and merger with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
Company in 1965.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed August 28, 2014.