Texas ranks first among the 50 states in total railroad mileage, highway mileage, and number of airports, and 2nd only to California in motor vehicle registrations and in number of general aviation aircraft.
Transportation has been a severe problem for Texas because of the state's extraordinary size and sometimes difficult terrain; one of the more unusual experiments in US transport history was the use of camels in southwestern Texas during the mid-1800s. The Republic of Texas authorized railroad construction as early as 1836, but the financial panic of 1837 helped kill that attempt. Not until 1853 did the state's first railroad—from Harrisburg (now incorporated into Houston) to Stafford's Point, 20 mi (32 km) to the west—come into service. At the outbreak of the Civil War, 10 railroads were operating, all but two connected with seaports. Although the state legislature in 1852 had offered railroad companies eight sections (5,120 acres/2,072 hectares) of land per mile of road construction and doubled that offer two years later, Texas lacked sufficient capital to satisfy its railroad-building needs until the war was over. The state generally held to the 10,240-acre (4,144-hectare) figure until all grants ceased in 1882. In all, Texas granted more than 50,000 sq mi (130,000 sq km) to railroad companies.
In 1870, Texas had fewer than 600 mi (970 km) of track; 10 years later, it had 3,026 mi (4,870 km); in 1890, 6,045 mi (9,729 km); and by 1920, 16,049 mi (25,828 km). A peak was reached in 1932, when there were 17,078 mi (27,484 km) of track; by the end of 2000, trackage had dwindled to 14,006 rail mi (22,540 km), with 11,377 mi (18,309 km) of the total being Class I railroad. Total rail mileage in Texas still ranks higher than any other state. Three carriers—Burlington Northern/Santa Fe, Kansas City Southern, and Union Pacific—control almost 85% of the mileage. The only rail passenger service in Texas is provided by Amtrak, which runs two routes—the Sunset Limited (New Orleans–Los Angeles) from Beaumont through Houston and San Antonio to El Paso, and the Texas Eagle (Chicago–San Antonio).
In mid-1983, Dallas-area voters approved the creation of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system (DART) to serve the city and 13 suburbs. Surface rail routes, running 160 mi (257 km), were to be constructed and bus service doubled at an expense of some $8.9 billion over a 26-year period. Ft. Worth has the state's only true subway—a 1-mi (1.6-km) line from a parking lot to a downtown shipping and office center—although Dallas-Ft. Worth Regional Airport has its own rail shuttle system.
Texas has by far the most mileage of any state. In 2000, Texas had 301,035 mi (484,468 km) of public roadway, 218,641 mi (351,868 km) of it rural. In 1997, expenditures on roads and highways by federal, state, and local governments came to more than $7.5 billion, 2nd only to California. The leading interstate highways are I-10 and I-20, respectively linking Houston and the Dallas–Ft.Worth Areas with El Paso in the west, and I-35 and I-45, connecting Dallas–Ft. Worth with, respectively, San Antonio (via Austin) and Galveston (via Houston). There were 13,462,023 licensed drivers in 2000 (2nd highest). Registered motor vehicles in 2000 included 7,616,183 automobiles, 6,368,516 trucks, 187,174 motorcycles, and 85,397 buses.
River transport did not become commercially successful until the end of the 19th century, when the Houston Ship Channel was dredged along the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou for more than 50 mi (80 km), and another channel was dredged down the Neches River to make a seaport out of Beaumont. With 13 major seaports and many shallow-water ports, Texas has been a major factor in waterborne commerce since the early 1950s. The Port of Houston is the nation's 2nd most active harbor, with over 158.8 million tons of cargo handled in 2000. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway begins in Brownsville, at the mouth of the Rio Grande, and extends across Texas for 423 mi (681 km) on its way to Florida and its connections with a similar waterway on the Atlantic.
After American entry into World War I, Texas began to build airfields for training grounds; when the war ended, many US fliers returned to Texas and became civilian commercial pilots, carrying air mail (from 1926), dusting crops, and mapping potential oil fields. In 2002, the state had 1,805 landing facilities. In 2000, the Dallas–Ft. Worth Regional Airport, the nation's largest air terminal, serviced nearly half of the aircraft departures in Texas, with another sixth handled by George Bush Intercontinental Airport. In May 1999, the city of Austin formally opened the $585 million Austin-Bergstrom Airport.