The History of Kansas Railroads

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The Louisiana Territory was purchased from France, by the United States, this started the new era settlement for the Kansa Indian tribe.


Treaties between the federal government and the Kansa and Osage tribes.

The last chief of the Kansa Indians, the man on the right was identified as Wah-shung-gah.

The South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company operated the first American-built train.  This is the era of the transcontinental railroads in American.  Over time railroads would be built westward.

Laying the rails on UP Railroad at two miles a day.


President Millard Fillmore signed the first railroad land-grant act.  From this date on, railroad transportation has been the most important factor in the development of the western part of the United States.



A purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to open the country to the transcontinental railways to connect the east with the west.  The pioneers would state what does Kansas have to offer but flat land, no trees and snakes.



The Capitol of Kansas is Topeka and The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway was founded by Cryus K. Holliday.  The state of Kansas was named after the Kansa Indian tribe.

Photo of Cryus K. Holliday

The state's first railroad was a five-mile line built from Elwood to Wathena.  How did the people get from place to place over land?  People came by wagon train, they walked, rode horses, or rode the stagecoach.  This new era of the steam-railway was the threshold of transportation and the greatest era of expansion for the pioneers.

Wagon train of pioneers going to the unknown west at Great Bend, Kansas.

The first locomotive run on the tracks laid on Kansas soil at Elwood.  This locomotive and car was ferried up the Missouri River and placed on the track the new age had come to Kansas.  This was the future for travel and for tourist.



Kansas became a state and is located in the mid-central part of the United States. Kansas is 411 miles from East to West and 208 miles from North to South, and Topeka is the Capitol of the state.  Kansas is a large amount of land with a diminutive amount of population.  Geographical center of the 48 contiguous states is Smith County, Kansas.



The land for the Homestead Act came from the railroads.   Covered wagon used by the pioneers.   Locomotive  The railroads were granted enormous acreage of federal land plus significant land endowments from the state.  The railroad also purchased huge acreage 'for a song' from the Indians.


First train tracks being surveyed across Kansas from east to west was the Kansas Pacific Railroad. Construction begins with a firm from Canada (Ross and Steele) in 1863.  In 1864, the train is opened for traveling from Kansas City to Lawrence.



The locomotive engineers formed the first brotherhood union because they could not get insurance.  The railroaders were the true settlers of the West.



The unknown or unexpected battles of the prairies.  This is the year that Native Americans begin attacks on the frontier settlers, and the "iron horse".  This horse (train) takes in water but eats wood they acknowledged.  Only one set of railroad tracks were laid at a time during this westward expansion.



It was established that the railroads needed to be guarded because of the U.S. mail and to save lives.  The building of the railroad over the Kansas flat plains should have been steady work, but the workers had many hard times with nature like the heat, being dry, winds-dust storms, floods, the cold and snow.



Over three million head of Texas longhorn cattle were driven to the Kansas Pacific Railroad for shipment at the center of Abilene.  By the time the cowboys had their herds safely inside the loading corrals, they were ready to celebrate.  The Wild West town of Abilene had saloons for gambling and drinking with dance halls.



Rifles were issued to the workers as part of the equipment, to protect themselves against attacks and buffalo stampedes.



The first train tracks built across Kansas from the north to south was the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.  A rail from East to the West was on the ground the link from ocean to ocean on May 10th, 1869 at Promontory, Utah.


The problem of obtaining food for the laborers was solved by contracting hunters to keep a supply of fresh buffalo meat on hand.


Photo of William F. Cody ("Buffalo Bill") The most prominent to perform this important service was William F. Cody, as a result of his work he received the famous title of "Buffalo Bill".  The importance of the railroad being realized as the horde of land settlers going West.



The Kansas Pacific Railway reaches the Kansas-Colorado border with its tracks.


The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway was the first railroad to construct to the Kansas - Oklahoma border line.



A branch of the Santa Fe Railroad arrived at Wichita and the town "busted-wide-open."  A sign was erected at the outskirts of the town proclaiming: "Everything goes in Wichita."  Many parade celebrations with fireworks commenced when the railroad track reached a town.  Every village was enthusiast about the railroad, because if a town got a railroad it would become a distributing center.  The site for greatness was to obtain more than one railroad to radiate from the town.

When the Santa Fe Railroad was finished to the Colorado border people started using the railroad to transport goods and materials from one settlement to another settlement location.  The Santa Fe Trail was no longer the main transportation route.



Four railroads shipped over 122,900 head of Texas cattle in eight months to Kansas.


Train crossing the Walnut River at Winfield, Kansas in Cowley County.

The first abandonment of track was Saint Joseph & Topeka Railway of the thirteen and a half miles between Wathena and Doniphan.



With the purchased land from the Kansas Pacific Railroad, several hundred River Brethren from Pennsylvania came to the cowtown of Abilene in Dickinson County.  They brought with them carloads of household items and farming equipment, and more than half a million dollars in cash.  At once they began to organize homes and fields for farming on the plains.  Everyone wanted to move West to the good country.  An estimated 55,000 immigrants came to Kansas from England, Germany, Russia, and Sweden.



The Kansas Pacific consolidated with the Union Pacific.  The steel highway was history now with the following words describing the railroad.  "It was a hastily constructed highway which cost three times as much as it was worth and yet was worth many times more than three times as much as it cost."  The Kansas Pacific Railroad played a key role in the economy for Kansas and the United States.


Topeka, Kansas Railroad Depot

The bulk of rail was laid and the population of Kansas had increased to almost one million compared to the 100,000 twenty years before.  Most of the people lived in the eastern side of the state.  The movement of the settlers into the west was due to the expansion of the railroad.  Locomotives are now being built in Atchison, Topeka, and other cities in Kansas.



Many of the trail herds headed for Dodge City, a shipping point on the Santa Fe Railroad line.



The railroads adopted Standard Time, but the United States didn't until 1918.



The railroad act to set up a regulatory commission on general rate schedules.



Almost 500 car loads of coal being shipped each month out of Litchfield, just northeast of Pittsburg in Crawford County.



The last Texas cattle drive to Dodge City in Ford County.



A person could obtain a charter to build any a railroad any place by asking for a charter and paying one dollar.  Over forty railroad companies were chartered during the territorial period in hopes of becoming a branch of the transcontinental route in Kansas.



First federal act is the Interstate Commerce Act to regulate rates for passengers.


Anderson Clinton Blanton and his section crew in Ottawa, Kansas yard.


Over seventy Hispanics came to Kansas as laborers for various Railroad companies.



The heavy snow over the state tied up the Railroad transportation.



With Kansas City having twelve-railway lines entering into the city, they built one of the largest railroad stations in the country.  The main building covers 15 acres.  A system of tracks, built below the street level to Union Station, cost $50 million.  Kansas City became a chief railroad junction for the Central Mid-states.



The State of Kansas had its most miles of track totaling 9,367 miles with 26 different railroads and in each county.



The Railway Labor Act passed by Congress to help avoid major strikes that might endanger the economy or create a national emergency.



The last ethnic group of 19,402 Hispanics to enter Kansas as laborers for various Railroad companies.



A record Kansas wheat crop of 240 million bushels, with most of it being shipped out by rail.

A Kansas slopped wheat field, with a barn, house, and windmill in the background.
This is a dated nail 1940 in a railroad tie.  Photo taken by Rail Affairs (KDOT).
General Eisenhower's return home to Abilene, Kansas on June 21, 1945

The Railway Ice Company flooded in Topeka, Kansas.

The flood of 1951 stopped railroad transportation. Do they rebuild or not?


Topeka, Kansas in 1951 flood.

The world's largest and longest wheat elevator is located at Hutchinson in Reno County at the primary hard wheat market in our nation.  Kansas is known as the grain state, and we ship the majority of it out by rail.



Sixteen railroad lines operate more than 8,000 miles of track in Kansas.  More than a third of the track belongs to the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad.



Kansas produced 421,540,000 bushels of wheat with the largest part of it being shipped out by rail.



Floods statewide and through many parts of the upper midwest during June and July damaged railroads and bridges.


Photo by KDOT (Rail Affairs) in Washington County 1993.  The shoulder is washed out and the track was moved by running rain water.
Photo taken by KDOT (Rail Affairs), the flood of 1993 in Saline County, Kansas.  Ties and rail are hanging because all the ballast and dirt is washed away.

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway merged.  Effective in 1997, it is now called BNSF.



Kansas railroads serves all but two counties with at least one railroad line in each county.


The merger between the railroads, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) and Canadian National Railway Company (CN) will not occur this year.

In the past decade many changes have occurred in railroading.  Lines have been abandoned, corporate mergers and sales have taken place, and familiar railroad names have disappeared.



On June 29th, the Class III Railroad company Central Kansas Railway (CKR) was sold to the Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad (K & O).  The K & O started operations of the railroad line at 12:01 A.M. on June 30th.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe train.