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Kansas Short Line Railroads

Published: May 31, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Kansas's first railroad was the Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad (LP&W), chartered in 1855. When the Union Pacific was formed in 1862 to build the eastern component of the Transcontinental Railroad, the old LP&W chartered was wrapped up into the new entity whereupon it became known as the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division in July, 1863.

The railroad's first 40 miles had been opened by 1864.  Over the next six decades, thousands of miles were laid down throughout Kansas, peaking at 9,388 miles in 1920.  Today, less than half of this mileage remains.  

Today, there are several "Class 3" short line railroads operating throughout Kansas, the largest of which is the 800+ mile Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad.  The information below briefly highlights the current systems serving the state

Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad

(reporting mark, BNG): This small shortline is owned by the Blackwell Industrial Authority Oklahoma Department of Transportation while the line is operated by US Rail Partners. 

Its trackage consists of about 35 miles between Blackwell, Oklahoma and Hunnewell, Kansas.  It has been in service since 2002 when it took over operating rights from the South Kansas & Oklahoma.

Cimarron Valley Railroad

(reporting mark, CVR):  This privately-owned short line, a subsidiary of The Western Group, has been in service since early 1996 when it acquired former Santa Fe trackage in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas. 

In all the road operates roughly 254 miles and its traffic base is largely agriculture but also includes other types of freight.  The road is known for using a fleet of early second-generation, rebuilt GP30s for power.

Garden City Western Railway

(reporting mark, GCW): This railroad is owned by the Pioneer RailCorp and operates 40 miles of track between Garden City and Shallow Water with a branch to Wolf. 

The history of the line dates back to 1916 when it was formed by the Garden City Sugar & Land Company.  It was acquired by Pioneer in 1999. Traffic consists of grain, frozen beef, fertilizer, farm implements, feed products, and utility poles.

Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad

(reporting mark, KO):  This large regional operates roughly 840 miles track across much of central and western Kansas, reaching the Colorado border. 

The K&O began service in 2001 and the property's history primarily traces back to the Santa Fe with a few Missouri Pacific segments.  The railroad is a Watco property and handles more than 50,000 carloads annually.

Kansas City Terminal Railway

(reporting mark, KCT): This terminal railroad, which has been in operation since 1906 serves the city of Kansas City providing switching service for the larger railroads which operate through the area.  The railroad carries out is own dispatching and maintains 85 miles of track (25 in Kansas and 60 in Missouri).

Kyle Railroad

(reporting mark, KYLE)See Colorado.

Kaw River Railroad

(reporting mark, KAW)See Missouri.

Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad

(reporting mark, MNA)See Arkansas.

Nebraska, Kansas & Colorado Railway

(reporting mark, NKCR)See Colorado.

V&S Railway

(reporting mark, VSR):  This short line, owned by A&K Railroad Materials, operates two disconnected lines in Kansas; between Medicine Lodge and Attica as well as the former Hutchinson & Northern, a former terminal road serving the region around Hutchinson.  The road's traffic consists of scrap metal, salt, and repaired cars, frac sand, wall board, and plaster.

South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad

(reporting mark, SKOL): The SK&O is another Watco regional railroad Tulsa, Oklahoma to several points throughout southeastern Kansas including Winfield, Humboldt, and Pittsburg among others. 

The collection of lines trace their roots back to the Missouri Pacific, St. Louis-San Francisco, and Santa Fe.  Its property totals 404 miles and annual carloads exceed 50,000 moving such products as agriculture, cement, coal, chemicals, steel, and plastics.

Wichita Union Terminal Railway

(reporting mark, WTA):  This road is jointly owned by UP and BNSF.  It was first established in 1910 although the tracks serving stockyard and packing companies at Wichita had been in service since 1889.  From the beginning it was jointly owned by Santa Fe, Rock Island, MoPac, and Frisco handling local switching and terminal service, which continues through today.

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