Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway History


At a Glance

Name: Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway
Length: 64.2 Miles
Trail activities: Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking
Counties: Briscoe, Floyd, Hall
Surfaces: Ballast
State: Texas

A Brief History

Located in the Northern Panhandle of Texas, the Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway is the region’s longest recreational corridor and uses more than 60 miles of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy’s (CB&Q) former right-of-way. This railroad was more commonly referred to as just the “Burlington” and operated throughout the Midwest, connecting Chicago, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities with Denver, Cheyenne, and Dallas/Fort Worth. What now comprises the trail was a branch line built by a predecessor company during the 1920s and eventually acquired by the CB&Q. Today, many of the Burlington’s former routes are owned and operated by the current BNSF Railway, one of the largest railroads in the country. The line south of Estelline was let go by then Burlington Northern during the late 1980s, forming today’s trail in 1993.

The history of this former rail corridor begins when the Fort Worth & Denver South Plains Railway Company was chartered to establish new feeder lines south of Estelline to tap into the region’s growing agricultural industry, especially around South Plains. The railroad was one of many subsidiaries owned by the Fort Worth & Denver City Railway (FW&DC). Also known as “The Denver Road,” the FW&DC was incorporated on May 26, 1873, and grew into one of the largest railroads in Texas. A number of investors promoted the project, spearheaded by Warren H. H. Lawrence, who hoped to see a route connecting the Gulf of Mexico with Colorado. However, the financial Panic of 1873 ended initial dreams of the FW&DC. Then in 1881, the railroad drew interest from Grenville Dodge, which believed a system linking the Gulf and Colorado was still possible but via a connection with other lines building south out of Denver.

The Fort Worth & Denver City began construction near Hodge Junction, near present-day Fort Worth, on November 27, 1881. By the following September, it had opened the first 110 miles to Wichita Falls and reached the Texas state line in the Northern Panhandle by 1888. On March 14th of that year, it linked up with the Denver, Texas & Fort Worth Railroad (DT&FW) at Union Park, New Mexico Territory, opening rail service from Fort Worth to Denver. At this point, ownership of the route passed through a number of different railroads. In 1888, the FW&DC fell under the control of the DT&FW, itself acquired by the Union Pacific in 1890. Unfortunately, UP entered receivership on October 13, 1893, the result of another financial panic that year. This forced the railroad to divest most of its subsidiaries, including the DT&FW and FW&DC.

On December 19, 1898, the Colorado & Southern Railway was formed to takeover these systems, as well as others the UP had owned, and immediately became a respectable railroad, running from southeastern Wyoming to Fort Worth via Denver and Pueblo, Colorado. In 1908, the C&S was acquired by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, although both it and the Fort Worth & Denver City remained as subsidiaries of the CB&Q for many years. Under the Burlington’s control, the FW&DC continued to grow, building new branch lines to feed freight traffic to its main line. It reached Galveston via joint ownership of the Burlington-Rock Island Railroad with the Rock Island. The CB&Q was a vast Midwestern system that served America’s Heartland and is regarded as an all-time classic railroad. Throughout most of its existence, the company was well managed and never suffered a serious bankruptcy or reorganization.

It is perhaps best remembered for its sprawling fleet of “Zephyr” passenger trains, which first debuted in 1934 as a sleek stainless-steel streamliner, one of the very first of its kind. Notable trains to serve Texas over the Fort Worth & Denver City included the “Texas Zephyr” (Denver-Dallas), “Denver Zephyr” (Chicago-Denver-Colorado Springs), and “Sam Houston Zephyr” (Dallas-Houston). One of the FW&DC’s secondary routes in the Lone Star State was known as the Fort Worth & Denver South Plains Railway (FW&DSP), chartered on March 6, 1925, to build southeast of Estelline into the counties of Castro, Lubbock, and Briscoe. By 1928, the FW&DSP had opened 206 miles, roughly resembling an “X” and reaching Lubbock, Dimmitt, and Silverton. It was soon leased by the Fort Worth & Denver City and eventually merged into that railroad after June 13, 1952.

On August 7, 1951, the FW&DC had changed its name to the Fort Worth & Denver Railway (FW&D), a move made by parent CB&Q to pare down and eliminate several of its subsidiaries in the Southwest. During March 1970, the Burlington and other allying railroads merged to form the giant Burlington Northern system. On December 31, 1982, the FW&D officially disappeared into the BN. During the 1980s, the giant railroad spent much of the decade reducing excess or unprofitable trackage, which included the former lines of the FW&DSP. These were abandoned around 1989, and the BN used trackage rights over the Santa Fe to continue serving remaining customers in the region. In 1993, the 64-mile section between South Plains and Estelline was opened as the recreational Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway.

Visit nearby railroad attractions, including the Austin Steam Train in Cedar Park; Galveston Railroad Museum and Grapevine Vintage Railroad in Grapevine; Houston Railroad Center and Interurban Railway Museum in Plano; Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco; New Braunfels Railroad Museum in New Braunfels; Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple; Railway Museum of San Angelo in Chadbourne; Texas & Pacific Railway Museum in Marshall; Texas State Railroad in Rusk; Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio; and the Wichita Falls Railroad Museum in Wichita Falls.

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