Rail Line History
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The tracks we use are part of what was the Llano subdivision of the Austin division of the Southern Pacific railroad. The section from Giddings to Austin was built by the Houston & Texas Central Railroad and completed in 1871. This was the first railroad into Austin. The capital city's first train arrived via the H&TC on Christmas Day, 1871.
In a separate business enterprise, the line west of Austin to Llano was chartered on April 20, 1881, as the Austin & Northwestern Railroad. The intent of the A&NW was to link Austin with the Texas & Pacific line at Abilene, however, no track was ever laid west of Llano. The railroad was originally built as a narrow gauge line, with 3 feet between the rails instead of the standard 4 feet - 8.5 inches. The line reached Burnet in 1882. It was extended to Granite Mountain in 1885 and began hauling pink granite to Austin for the Texas Capitol building.
This portion of a 1956 Southern Pacific timetable map shows the Llano subdivision heading northwest out of Austin through Cedar Park, Bertram and Burnet. The Houston & Texas Central line to Giddings can be seen heading east out of Austin through Manor. The entire railroad from Giddings to Llano remains intact today.
In 1891 the railroad was purchased by the Houston & Texas Central but continued to operate under the A&NW name. The new owners immediately began the task of upgrading the line and converting the narrow gauge track to standard gauge. By 1892 the railroad was extended to Llano. The A&NW was fully integrated into the H&TC system on August 22, 1901. The H&TC was absorbed by the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, a subsidiary of Southern Pacific, in 1934.
In the 1980s, large railroads such as Southern Pacific streamlined their operations through the sale or abandonment of lightly used branch lines. SP elected to abandon the entire 163-mile Giddings-Llano line by 1986. Fortunately, the City of Austin stepped in and purchased the railroad with the intent of using the right-of-way as a mass transit corridor. Today the railroad is owned by Capital Metro, Austin's transit authority. Freight service on the line is operated by the Austin Western Railroad which is a division of Watco. Freight trains operate seven days a week under dispatcher authority utilizing a track warrant system. Major commodities include crushed rock, lime, building materials, beer and recycled paper. In 2009 all weekday freight trains will run at night and commuter rail service will operate during the day between Leander and downtown Austin.
The Austin Steam Train Association's operating name, the Austin & Texas Central Railroad, combines the names of the two original owners as a salute to the rich and colorful history of the home rails. Our steam engine, Southern Pacific 786, was assigned to the T&NO. There is some speculation that our engine may have occasionally operated on these rails until its retirement in 1956.