Kansas DOT officials are looking to bring the railroads back stronger than ever. KDOT is working on a new Kansas State Rail Plan, a five- to six-year plan to improve and update the rail system in the state. That includes all 4,700 miles of railroad tracks in the state.
On Oct. 1, KDOT hosted a meeting in Pittsburg to help explore needs in the state railway system. The meeting was the third of six across the state. Wichita and Overland Park meetings were held earlier this week, with meetings in Topeka, Hays and Dodge City yet to come.
"We're looking at trends in the industry. We're seeking public input," said John Maddox, KDOT rail and freight unit manager. "What's going on, we see as good. There are issues that we are becoming aware of at these meetings that we should address. It helps our overall plan and guidance. We have to take that and implement it into policy."
The plan is set to be released sometime next summer, but there's plenty of issues left to be resolved. Possibly the biggest among those issues is funding. The Kansas Department of Transportation spent $13 billion on all forms of statewide transportation over the last 10 years. Of that amount, only about $30 million was spent on railroads. That equates to about 0.23 percent of the KDOT budget. That's likely not going to be enough, as the state has the sixth most miles of railroads in the country, with 4,700 miles of railroad. In fact, one study shows that 66 percent of Kansas freight moves by rail.
And sometimes the product being transported is just as important as the mode of transportation. In Kansas, 21.9 million tons of freight heads out of the state, 46 percent of which is grain and crops. Coming into the state is 30.3 million tons of freight. Of that, 60 percent is coal.
At the roundtable discussion, several ideas and thoughts were discussed, including a hypothetical extension of passenger rail throughout the state and investing in viable tracks rather than other forms of transportation, such as air travel.
All told, KDOT officials had plenty to work with as they try to make the new state plan for years to come.
"We're taking inventory of the rail system and looking for issues and needs in the state," Maddox said. "We are working for economic development, safety issues, and other recommendations. These are potential planning issues that will move us forward throughout the state."