Texas Eagle revisits ancestor's home turf

Posted by Malcolm Kenton
on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Over the past five weeks, the Texas Eagle has swooped through parts of its namesake state where it was once a common sight, but is now a rare bird. To allow Union Pacific to make repairs to the section of its normal route over the former Texas & Pacific between Big Sandy and Dallas, the southbound Eagle diverged at Big Sandy southbound, using parts of the former Cotton Belt, Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific before rejoining the normal route at Taylor, while the northbound used the ex-MoPac -- the original route of the Eagles -- all the way from Taylor to Longview. Passengers bound for bypassed stops were put on substitute buses at Longview southbound, Austin northbound. I took the opportunity to experience this chunk of rare mileage with a round-trip departing Normal, IL on June 19 for Austin, and leaving Austin for St. Louis on June 22.

The gate to a ranch along the ex-Cotton Belt line just east of Corsicana, Tex., seen from the detouring Texas Eagle. All photos by Malcolm Kenton.
Both routes are faster than the regular route because they are more direct between Longview and Taylor, in spite of a slower track speed (since the track is not maintained to passenger standards, the top speed on the rare miles was 60 mph, and in practice the train (particularly northbound) rarely exceeded 40). During the detour, the northbound was rescheduled to serve all stations between Longview and Chicago one hour earlier than normal, which the train often achieved. Southbound, it departed all stations Chicago to Longview one hour later than normal but was originally set to resume normal schedule at Taylor, until about two weeks into the detour, when the train's performance caused Amtrak to delay scheduled departures between Taylor and San Antonio by one hour.

On my southbound run, which left Longview 45 minutes late, we arrived in Taylor 90 minutes ahead of the revised schedule, so after letting passengers off at the station, we backed onto the ex-Katy (part of the normal route), clearing the ex-MoPac for two freight movements while we waited on time to depart. Apparently, this had become a common occurrence during the detour. Strangely, the southbound Eagle resumed serving the normal route on Friday, but the northbound appears to still be detouring. 

One of my favorite things about train travel is the opportunity it gives one to experience the landscape one traverses in a unique way. Trains give travelers an honest depiction of the country as they pass through towns that were built around them, many of which are only shadows of their former selves, and offer glimpses of lakes, rivers, hills, forests, plains and other natural features, along with many front and back yards. The country presents its public-facing side towards roads, and the view from Interstates is monotonous and homogenous. But a more intimate side of cities and towns is presented towards the railroad tracks, even if it is only seen fleetingly. The most intriguing part of riding a main line route that is typically freight-only is the opportunity to gain this perspective on places that only few outsiders have the chance to see and appreciate.

The following photos taken from the Texas Eagle's Sightseer Lounge car showcase different aspects of the rare routings: railroad history, architecture, the physical form of small communities, and slices of life along the lines. For more of my photos, check out this Flickr album.

Former Train Stations

Tyler (now the headquarters for the local transit agency)

Hearne (once at the diamond between the SP and MoPac, now a museum)

Rockdale (now a museum, also possessing a MoPac caboose and a Budd dining car)

Other Railroad Sights

Former Southern Traction Co. interurban car on display next to the visitor's center in Corsicana. Electric interurban railways once connected Corsicana to Dallas via Waxahachie.

A southbound UP grain train waits for the detouring northbound Eagle to clear the diamond at Valley Junction, on the ex-MoPac just west of Hearne.

Yard switcher at Kilgore

Towns, Villages and Architecture

Gause, Tex.

Abandoned storefronts in Arp, Tex.

Spring Street in Palestine, Tex.

Robertson County Courthouse and water tower in Franklin

Oil towers near the depot in downtown Kilgore

Hanna Street in Calvert

Mural on the side of a toy store in Winona, Tex.

Countrysides and Slices of Life

Two cows in a stockyard in Buffalo, Tex.

Farmer's tractor crossing the tracks behind the northbound Eagle near Keechi

Rural scene in Milam County

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