The Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad Company was chartered on February 7, 1853, to build from Galveston through Houston to Henderson. The early incorporators included W. C. Lacy, T. P. Anderson, R. A. Harris, and William M. Tuck. The company was an important carrier as it was, for a number of years, Galveston's only rail connection with the Texas railroad system centering at Houston. Although supported in Galveston and Houston, much of the early financing was provided by investors in Holland and France. Construction of the "Old Reliable Short Line," as the road was later called, began at Virginia Point on the mainland opposite Galveston Island in 1854. However, the first rail was not laid until 1857 and in 1859 the company finally reached Houston, where it terminated at the corner of Main and McKinney. Only two curves, one on either side of Harrisburg, were required between Virginia Point and Houston. A trestle across Galveston Bay, built from the proceeds of a Galveston County bond issue, was finished in 1860, thus completing the rail line between the two cities. The original company was sold out in 1860, and a new Galveston, Houston and Henderson was organized under the original charter. During the Civil War the railroad remained active, handling the traffic to and from the blockade runners reaching Galveston. The tracks and the Galveston Bay bridge were used by Gen. John B. Magruder in his recapture of Galveston on January 1, 1863. In 1867 the bondholders of the original company forced the railroad into receivership. Over the ensuing four years an acrimonious court battle was fought between the stockholders and bondholders before the Galveston, Houston and Henderson was ordered sold under foreclosure on December 15, 1871. A third company was organized under the original charter which acquired and merged the Galveston and Houston Junction Railroad Company later that month.
The railroad was again sold on August 1, 1882, to Jay Gould and Russell Sage. They organized a new company, also under the original charter, which was sold to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company (Katy). The Katy was also under Gould's control. Since the Katy railhead was 165 miles from Houston at the time, the Galveston, Houston and Henderson was leased to a third Gould road, the International-Great Northern Railroad Company, in 1883. Gould lost control of the Katy in 1888. In 1893 the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company of Texas built into Houston, and the Katy demanded the return of its property. The International-Great Northern refused, claiming a valid lease of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson. Although the Katy was initially successful in state court and began operating into Galveston, a change of venue to federal court overturned the state court ruling. The case remained in the courts for the next two years while the International-Great Northern had exclusive use of the property. Finally, on November 19, 1895, the two contesting railroads signed an agreement settling the dispute. The Katy sold a 50 percent interest in the Galveston, Houston and Henderson to the International-Great Northern, the lease was dissolved, and both railroads received trackage rights between Houston and Galveston. The Galveston, Houston and Henderson was the shortest of the three railroads that eventually connected Houston and Galveston and reported its mileage at an even fifty miles. In 1877 the line began operating the first daily newspaper train in Texas for the transportation of the Galveston News into Houston. This service lasted until World War I. In 1892 the company reported passenger earnings of $95,000 and freight earnings of $398,000. That year the railroad owned twelve locomotives and fourteen cars.
The September 1900 hurricane destroyed the company's two-mile bridge across Galveston Bay, and it was not rebuilt. The railroad used the bridge owned by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company, the only bridge to survive the storm, until the Causeway was opened in 1912. Effective March 1, 1920, the two owning railroads began operating the Galveston, Houston and Henderson for alternating one year periods. The Galveston, Houston and Henderson discontinued all train service and was reduced to the role of a terminal operation at Galveston. By end of 1960 ownership of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson was vested in the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company as successors to the original owners. On December 1, 1989, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas and the Galveston, Houston and Henderson were both merged into the Missouri Pacific. The "Old Reliable Short Line" operated under its original charter and name for over 136 years, longer than any other railroad in the state.