The construction of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway marked the beginning of the railroad age in Texas. It was the first railroad to begin operating in the state, the first component of the present Southern Pacific to open for service, and the second railroad west of the Mississippi River. In addition, the Houston Tap was built under provisions of the BBB&C charter.
On February 11, 1850, a group that included Gen. Sidney Sherman received a charter for the BBB&C. Construction began from Buffalo Bayou at Harrisburgin 1851; the first locomotive, which was named for Sherman, arrived in late 1852; and the first twenty miles of track, from Harrisburg to Stafford's Point, opened in August 1853. By January 1, 1856, the BBB&C or Harrisburg Railroad, as it was commonly called, had been extended an additional 12½ miles to East Richmond on the bank of the Brazos River across from Richmond. Construction resumed in 1858, and in late 1860 the tracks extended eighty miles to Alleyton, near the east bank of the Colorado River opposite Columbus. Due to the debilitating effect of the Civil War and its aftermath on the BBB&C, the company built no new mileage after 1860. However, it extended its service to Columbus in 1867 over the Columbus Tap track. The CT was chartered in 1860 to connect Columbus with the BBB&C and in November 1867 completed its three-mile line and a permanent bridge over the Colorado River.
By 1868 the BBB&C was in financial difficulties and unable to pay a series of judgments rendered against the company. On July 7, 1868, the sheriff of Harris County sold the railroad to Col. William Sledge for $13,000. Sledge retained a 25 percent interest in the line and sold the balance to a group that included Thomas W. Peirce. The new owners rehabilitated the BBB&C, replacing many crossties and acquiring the first new locomotives and cars since before the war.
To cross the Brazos the railroad first used a ferry and inclined planes on each side of the river. This system was replaced in October 1858 by a low-water crossing. Trains had to cross at a high rate of speed in order to gain the momentum necessary to overcome the steep grade on the opposite side. This bridge presented numerous problems to the BBB&C and prevented efficient operation of the railroad, as it was out of service for extended periods of time when freshets hit the river. In April 1867 a separate company, the Brazos Iron Bridge Association, was organized to finance and build a permanent bridge across the Brazos River; the job was completed on July 8, 1869.
On January 24, 1870, the company was sold for $25,000 under provisions of the 1860 mortgage on the property. A new company with the same name was organized with Peirce as president. In July the charter was amended, the Columbus Tap and the Brazos Iron Bridge Association merged into the BBB&C, and the name of the road changed to Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway.
Although Harrisburg did not develop into the major city on Buffalo Bayou as a result of the construction of the BBB&C, the railroad otherwise fulfilled the expectations of its early backers. The first railroad in Texas, now a part of Southern Pacific's transcontinental Sunset Route between New Orleans and Los Angeles, handles heavy freight traffic as well as Amtrak's Sunset Limited west of Houston.