The Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, also known by its reporting marks as the WSOR has been a vital transportation resource for its home state\ since it began operations in 1980 from former Chicago & North Western and Milwaukee Road branch lines. Today the railroad, now owned by the owned by the Watco Companies (since January 1, 2012), operates over 700 miles of tracks which is jointly owned by Wisconsin and the counties in which the railroad serves. Over the last 20+ years of operations the Class II has gained an excellent reputation and has worked hard at not only providing superb quality service to its customers but also upgrading its property in conjunction with the State of Wisconsin for better and more efficient operations. This reputation has not gone unnoticed and just within the past few years the railroad has won a number of awards for its services and business practices.
The history of the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad began in the late 1970s when the Milwaukee Road was attempting to scale back operations and abandon unprofitable secondary lines in an attempt to salvage their worsening financial situations. Unfortunately, the Milwaukee had little success in relieving its debt crisis at the time and after filing bankruptcy began the process of abandoning or selling lines. The railroad's incompetent management abandoned so much of its property, particularly its important western lines, that the company languished in bankruptcy for more than five years before it was purchased by the Soo Line in 1985. In any event, Wisconsin caught wind of the Milwaukee's attempt to abandon or sell many of their lines in the state and the legislature had the forward thinking of purchasing most of the routes to save them for future use.
In 1980 the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad was chartered by the FSC Corporation to operate these lines, all of which are located in the southern areas of the state serving such towns as Oshkosh, Prairie Du Chien, Monroe, Kiel, and Reedsburg. Around the same time the state also gained the Illinois Central Gulf route to Madison. It was not until the mid-1990s the then-shortline W&S saw further expansion when it began purchasing former Chicago & Northwestern lines from successor Union Pacific, notably lines that served Madison and Sheboygan. Additionally, between 1998 the railroad saw further expansion when the state purchased additional former Milwaukee Road lines serving Madison, Watertown, Saukville, and Kiel from then-owner Soo (now Canadian Pacific).
While it may seem hard to believe the railroad actually now owns a system covering just over 700 miles in southern Wisconsin. Additionally, their network of routes are not entirely interconnected but the railroad has been able to circumvent this by obtaining trackage rights from Class I railroads between from Clearing Yard (near Chicago) to Saukville, just above Milwaukee. They also have trackage rights to Fox Lake, Illinois (the southern terminus of their lines) as well as between Hartford and Grand Avenue.
Today, the WSOR moves a wide range of freight including agricultural products (corn, grain, beans, etc.), lumber, ethanol, petroleum products, plastics, and various aggregates. However, perhaps most noteworthy (and important) to the company are its many interchange partners including Class Is Union Pacific, BNSF Railway, Canadian Pacific, and Canadian National. Additionally, because they can reach Chicago they essentially have indirect connections to all seven Class I railroads. The Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, in upholding its commitment to quality service and serving the communities it operates through recently announced intentions to grow even more by restoring yet more abandoned trackage in Wisconsin that has not seen trains for over fifty years!