Oklahoma railroads are one of those unique places in the country that offer a mix of mountainous and flat, wide open operations. The eastern half of the state is somewhat mountainous and difficult while the western half is your stereotypical scene of America's central plains; flat and open country with farmland and grain elevators dotting the landscape. With Oklahoma being situated roughly in the middle of the country it was, historically, home to several well known granger and western railroads looking to primarily tap the state's agricultural regions. While today, the state has lost about half of its original rail infrastructure it is still an important state with the Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern Railway, and BNSF Railway all having important lines running directly through Sooner country (the UP and BNSF both operate through routes in the state). Additionally, Oklahoma is still served by several smaller railroads.
Oklahoma railroads date back to 1871 (36 years before Oklahoma officially became a state) when the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, long known in late years as The Katy, entered Indian Territory (as it was then known) heading south to connect to New Orleans. The railroad dated back to the Union Pacific Railway of 1865, intended to connect Junction City, Kansas with New Orleans. The railroad changed its name as the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad in 1870 to better reflect its goals as the company would never reach New Orleans. It became part of Jay Gould's empire in 1880 through the Missouri Pacific system. However, it would connect St. Louis with Kansas, Oklahoma, and much of Texas.
Following the Katy, Oklahoma would find itself home to several classic lines by the early 20th century. These included:
Today, Oklahoma railroads are predominantly made up of the BNSF, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern Railway although there are also a number of shortlines. These smaller railroads include Class II, regional South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad as well as shortlines Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad, Arkansas Southern Railroad, AT&L Railroad, Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad, Cimarron Valley Railroad, Grainbelt, Farmrail, Hollis & Eastern Railroad, Kiamichi Railroad, Northwestern Oklahoma Railroad, Stillwater Central Railroad, Sand Springs Railway, Texas, Oklahoma & Eastern Railroad, Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway, and the Wichita, Tillman & Jackson Railway. To learn more about Oklahoma's current railroad companies please click here to visit the state's career page here at the website. While the information primarily centers around helping those looking for employment it also offers brief descriptions of these companies.
Oklahoma's railroad network currently consists of over 3,200 miles of trackage. This total is about 49% of the state's peak mileage, that reached nearly 6,600 miles in 1920. Most of Oklahoma's losses since that time have mostly been due to the abandonments of unprofitable secondary and branch lines centered around farming and agriculture. For more information about Oklahoma railroads, in terms of its route mileage over the years please have a look at the chart below.
In any event, if you tire of watching the live freight railroading then be sure and visit one of Oklahoma's many museums or tourist lines. For instance, the Farmrail shortline system operates an excursion train and the Oklahoma Railway Museum offers train rides and features a large collection of railroad equipment.
Unfortunately, the state does not have a lot of museums to choose
from although there are a few including the Cimarron Valley Railroad
Museum Frisco Depot Museum, Oklahoma Railway Museum, Railroad Museum of
Oklahoma, Waynoka Air-Rail Museum, and Yukon's Best Railroad Museum.
Also, excursion trains include the Farmrail Tourist Train and the Oklahoma Railway Museum offers rides. In terms of Oklahoma's passenger rail operations it has had a slight resurgence since 1999 when Amtrak began operating the Heartland Flyer that connects Oklahoma City to Fort Worth. To learn more about Amtrak's current services in the state please visit their website.
For great reading about several now-abandoned Oklahoma rail lines please click here. In all, Oklahoma railroads offer a variety of operations that should appeal to most railfans. And, if all else fails then take a break and enjoy a comfortable train ride aboard Farmrail's excursion train or even book the train for yourself!
For more reading on railroad history you might want to consider picking up one of the following books. First is Trains across the Continent, Second Edition: North American Railroad History by author Rudolph Daniels. The book gives a general history of the industry and has received excellent reviews. The second book is entitled The Complete Book of North American Railroading put together by several noted railroad authors such as Mike Schafer, Jim Boyd, and Steve Glischinski (the others are Kevin EuDaly, Steve Jessup, and Andrew McBride). Filled with more than 350 pages of excellent photography and information the book generally covers the industry from its earliest beginnings, through the "Golden Age," and finally to today. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing one, or both, of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.