Remembering the Rio Grande Point Isabel Railroad

Throwback Thursday

It was the transportation that connected the Rio Grande Valley to the world, almost 150 years ago, and today part of it is still standing at the Historic Brownsville Museum. 

It was formally chartered around 1870 and came into operation by 1872. 

“It’s the lifeline for commerce coming in of the world’s ports.  It went from Point Isabel to Brownsville from 1872 until just about the second World War,” said Eugene Fernandez, Historic Brownsville Museum Manager. 

It was the only railroad in Texas and one of the few in the United States to be built to a track gauge of forty-two inches. 

It traveled from Brownsville to the coast, requiring 15 bridges.

“It was a wood-burning train so you get all full of soot and smoke and all that, you didn’t wear anything white,” Fernandez said. 

In 1892 the railroad reported passenger earnings of $3,000 and freight earnings of $73,000; it owned three locomotives and fifty-six cars.

The company went through two additional periods of reorganization after its initial founding, and its last ride was just before the Second World War.

It was revived through the dedication of one man, Gene Balch. 

“Meticulously. loving care Mr. Balch put this social artifact for us back into completion and service,” Fernandez said. 

Along with other relics like luggage, lights and tools, and the museum is always looking for more to display.

“Please get in touch with the museums because it may not have any value to you but it has value to our society,” he said. 

The railroad suffered from fits of nature, including hurricanes that destroyed tracks and bridges of the route.

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