MKT Railroad - The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad
The MKT was incorporated May 23, 1870. In its earliest days the MKT (the railroad’s reporting mark) was commonly referred to as "the K-T", which was its stock exchange symbol; this common designation soon evolved into "the Katy".
The Katy was the first railroad to enter Texas from the north. Eventually the Katy's core system would grow to link Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri; Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Temple, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Galveston, Texas. An additional mainline between Fort Worth and Salina, Kansas, was added in the 1980s after the collapse of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad; this line was operated as the Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Railroad (OKKT).
The Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch had begun operations in 1865. When it incorporated in May 1870 the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad immediately acquired the Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch and its 182 miles of track. The Union Pacific Railway was, for a period of several years in the late 19th century, the official name of the Union Pacific Railroad, which later acquired MKT as part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
At the time of the 1870 incorporation, consolidations were also made with the Labette & Sedalia Railway Co. and the Neosho Valley & Holden Railway Co. At this time MKT also acquired the Tebo & Neosho Railroad Co., the St. Louis & Santa Fe Railroad Co., and the Hannibal & Central Missouri Railroad Co. Combined with the Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch these small, newly-built railroads formed the foundation on which the Katy would build.
Congress had passed acts promising land grants to the first railroad to reach the Kansas border via the Neosho Valley, and the part of the Katy that had been the Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch was in a heated competition for the prize. On June 6, 1870, Katy workers laid the first rails across the Kansas border winning the race. Ironically the promised land grants never materialized; the courts overturned the grants promised by Congress because the land was in Indian Territory and was the property of the Indian tribes.
Still, the Katy continued its push southward, laying track and acquiring other small railroads, extending its reach to Dallas in 1886, Waco in 1888, Houston in April 1893 and to San Antonio 1901.
When the railroad reached Houston, joint ownership of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad gave the Katy immediate access to the Port of Galveston, and access to ocean-going traffic on the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1896, as a publicity stunt set up by William George Crush, the Katy crashed two locomotives, pulling heavily loaded trains, at a site that came to be known thereafter as Crush, Texas. The collision occurred before more than 40,000, three of whom died and several injured, when the exploding boilers sent debris flying. Ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who was performing in the area at the time, commemorated the event in "The Great Crush Collision March" which he dedicated to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway.
From 1915 until January 4, 1959, the Katy, in a joint venture with the St. Louis – San Francisco Railway (popularly known as the Frisco), operated the Texas Special. This luxury passenger liner ran from St. Louis to Dallas, Ft. Worth, and San Antonio. It sported rail cars with names like Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, David Crockett, and James Bowie.
With the merger movement in full swing across the industry by the 1980s, for the Katy this proved to be a major setback as it cost the railroad much overhead traffic, which it depended on. Surrounded by much larger systems the railroad saw no other alternative than to find a merger partner. On December 1, 1989, the Katy was formally merged into the MoPac, and the MKT is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad system.
The Katy Railroad's Missouri Beginnings
What came to be known as the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad began life in 1865 as the Union Pacific Railway (no corporate relation to the Union Pacific of today). Beginning construction in 1869, the line was originally planned to run from Junction City, KS, through Emporia to New Orleans, LA. One year later, the railroad changed its name to the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad to better reflect the pared-down goals of company management.
The beginnings of the MKT's Missouri lines actually began before the MKT itself. In 1867, work began on the Tebo & Neosho Railroad, which was to have run from Sedalia and Clinton to Neosho in southwestern Missouri. Crews began building south from the Pacific Railroad (later MP) in Sedalia in June of 1870, reaching Clinton in August, and finally Nevada in October. In late 1870, the Tebo & Neosho was absorbed by the newly formed MK&T. And on February 3, 1871, the line from Sedalia finally reached its parent MKT line in Parsons, KS. From that point, the company pushed its rails south from Parsons into Indian Territory (later the state of Oklahoma), reaching the state of Texas in December of 1872, thus fulfilling the company's original vision of linking the states of Missouri and Kansas with the state of Texas.
Back to the north, the Katy was not about to stop in Sedalia. The original goal of the corporation was to reach Chicago, and construction continued at a brisk pace in order to reach the Windy City (and railroad capital of the world). By 1873, the MK&T had built northward from Sedalia and Boonville to Hannibal, MO, on the Mississippi River, a few hundred miles shy of Chicago. Passenger and freight had to be ferried across the Missouri River at Boonville until the railroad completed its first bridge at that location in 1873. As a result of the completion of the Boonville bridge in January of 1874, through service was commenced from Texas all the way to Chicago, via a connection with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy from Hannibal to Chicago. During this time, the MKT also commenced operations into St. Louis, utilizing the trackage of the Missouri Pacific from Sedalia, through Jefferson City, to St. Louis.
In 1880, the MK&T was leased to the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and it was operated as a part of the immense MoPac Jay Gould empire until 1888, when the lease expired and the Katy resumed independent operation (the Mo Pac would later build its own lines through Oklahoma into Texas, some of which would later be abandoned by UP in 1988 in favor of the original MKT lines). During the MoPac years, the Katy was extended to Forth Worth, Dallas, and Waco, TX.
On To St. Louis!
With St. Louis quickly rising as a major railroad gateway, the recently-liberated MKT began shifting it focus to it and away from Chicago, though still continuing operations to Illinois via the CB&Q connection at Hannibal. In the late 1890's, the Katy created a subsidiary called the Missouri, Kansas, & Eastern Railroad to construct a new line from the existing mainline at New Franklin, along the Missouri River, to Machens, on the Mississippi River. From Machens, Katy trains could continue on to St. Louis via the CB&Q. Unfortunately, in its hurry to reach St. Louis, many construction "corners" were cut. The poorly engineered line was constructed in the floodplain of the Missouri River for much of its length. The new route, completed in 1895, would lead to millions of dollars in losses and would prove to be an operational nightmare for many years to come. Included on this new line were a new shops complex at the new junction at New Franklin, a branch line to the city of Columbia, and the only tunnel on the MKT system, located in Rocheport.
Also in 1895, the MKT completed another new line from the St. Louis mainline at Bryson (north of Windsor) to the KC mainline at Paola, KS. This line was envisioned to serve as a through connector route for traffic between Kansas City and St. Louis, though its rather circuitous route made for long transit times and prevented the MKT from competing seriously in the trans-state rail market.
A New Century
Through its early years, the Katy had periods of both struggle and prosperity, though periods of struggle seemed to reign. In 1917, three passenger trains each way traversed the St. Louis Sub. With its hopes of reaching Chicago dashed by financial struggles, the MKT sold the Moberly to Hannibal portion of its mainline to the Wabash in the 1920s, providing the Wabash with a vital link in its mainline to Kansas City, and the MKT with much-needed cash. The line from New Franklin to Moberly was then downgraded to secondary and branch line status.
In 1931-32, the MKT constructed a new lift-span bridge across the Missouri River at Boonville, including a new girder span over the MoPac mainline on the south bank of the river. The original bridge, though an impressive sight in itself, had not been constructed to handle the heavier modern railroad equipment and was beginning to deteriorate under the loads. At the time of its completion, the new bridge was the longest railroad lift-span bridge in the world.
The years of the Great Depression brought years of decay for the line. In 1933, passenger service between Parsons and St. Louis had been reduced to one train a day each way, provided by the "Katy Flyer". However, World War II brought much-needed prosperity for the MKT- and the railroad industry as a whole. But after the war, the traffic began to dry up to pre-war levels, and Katy returned to a status of decline.
In order to trim operating costs, the MKT implemented cost- cutting measures which included the abandonment of many miles of secondary and branch lines and the discontinuance of the Katy Flyer passenger train on April 30, 1958. Also in the late 1950's, the Walker-Eldorado Springs branch was dismantled, and in 1958, the Bryson, MO to Paola, KS branch saw its last train and was abandoned. In 1965, the last MKT passenger run from Kansas City to San Antonio was finally abandoned.
A Decade of Changes
Continued years of poor management and bad economics brought further despair to the MKT system. In 1970, Reginald Whitman became the president of the MKT and began an intense plan to bring the system back to health. His plan of action, however, included more abandonments of unprofitable lines. In September of 1975, the branch to Moberly (former Hannibal mainline) was pruned back by twenty-three miles to Fayette. And then in March of 1978, the remaining ten miles from Fayette back to the mainline at New Franklin were abandoned. And in January of 1978, the eight-mile Columbia branch was abandoned. Though Miss Katy left town, the city of Columbia retained rail service via a Norfolk Western branch (now Columbia Terminal RR). By 1979, all freight traffic on the St. Louis line was handled by just two daily trains, westbound #101 from St. Louis to Dallas via Parsons, and its eastbound counterpart, #102 from Dallas to St. Louis.
Not only did President Whitman's plans bring physical rehabilitation, but also new business. In the late 1970's, the Kansas City Power & Light Co. built a massive coal-fired power plant near Ladue, just south of Clinton. The site chosen for the plant was on a four-mile branch line that had once served the coal fields north of Montrose. The branch was completely rebuilt and re-laid with heavier rail to withstand the weekly unit trains. MKT received government aid from the State of Missouri to rehabilitate the portion of line from Ft. Scott, Kansas to Ladue to handle the new and much heavier traffic.
Also in the late 1970's, construction of Truman Lake, south of Clinton, required a five-mile line relocation north of Ladue that included a 1-mile long causeway and 1/4-mile steel trestle over the new reservoir. Much of the original right-of-way was abandoned and eventually flooded. Frisco's High Line from Springfield to Kansas City, which MKT interchanged with at Clinton, was abandoned in 1978 as a result of the lake construction. Frisco saw no need to spend millions of dollars on a line relocation for a light-density branch line. Upon Frisco's exit from Clinton, MKT immediately began operation of its trackage in order to serve grain elevators located on both ends of the now stub-ended line.
By the early 80's, trackage rehabilitation allowed for train speeds of 40-45 mph on many parts of the line from Ft. Scott to Sedalia, while lower speeds were required from Sedalia to St. Louis. The MKT also began hauling increased amounts of trailer-on-flatcar traffic to and from St. Louis and Texas. Unfortunately, the early 1980s also saw Katy closing most of its remaining on-line stations and the abolishment of their agent jobs, including those located in Nevada, Clinton, and Sedalia.
A "New" Line To St. Louis
It had been apparent for many years that the mainline between New Franklin and Machens was poorly constructed, having been built for most of its length in the flood plain of the Missouri River. In its rush to reach St. Louis decades earlier, the MKT cut several corners to cut down on both time and money. This resulted in a flooded mainline every time the river spilled its banks. The Katy had dished out millions of dollars over the years to keep the line operating and above water. As a matter of fact, the St. Louis line was one of the last strongholds for Katy steam, as frequent flooding of the route prohibited the use of diesel-electric locomotives. Eventually, steam fell and MKT management simply began detouring on every possible route across Missouri during flood season- including the Frisco via Springfield, and the Missouri Pacific via Jefferson City.
As early as 1981, the MKT had begun eyeing the parallel Missouri Pacific (soon to become Union Pacific) line to the south as an alternate route to St. Louis. As mentioned earlier, the MKT often used this route, which it crossed in Sedalia, for detours during floods. In addition, the well-manicured MoPac mainline simply provided a much faster, more direct trip into St. Louis.
Katy finally surrendered to Mother Nature after severe flooding in October of 1986 washed out several miles of mainline. On October 4, 1986, trains 101 and 102 had become, without their crews knowing it, the very last trains to journey across Katy's own trans-state route.
The only viable option in reaching St. Louis was, of course, detouring trains over Union Pacific's parallel ex-MP Sedalia Subdivision from Sedalia to St. Louis. After weeks of negotiations, a permanent trackage rights agreement between the two companies was finalized, and MKT joined Amtrak and Cotton Belt in exercising trackage rights over this already packed-to-capacity mainline. Ironically, this was originally the same route that gave MKT access to St. Louis until it completed its own line in the late 1800s! Interesting how history seems to run in full circles!
While MKT ceased operation on its "river" line in 1986, the line was not officially abandoned until 1987. In 1988, the Katy "rail banked" the route and donated the entire length of the right-of-way from Sedalia to Machens to the State of Missouri, which has since turned the route into the Katy Trail State Park, the nation’s longest rails-to-trains conversion project.
During the 1980s, mega-mergers created monster railroad systems. Two of Katy's "neighbors" and important inter-line interchange partners had succumbed to merger-mania: Burlington Northern took over the Frisco, and MoPac was swallowed by the Union Pacific. The mergers severely dented Katy's overhead traffic, resulting in great losses each year for the railroad. Coupled with the overall economic recession and the financial stagnancy of the railroad industry as a whole, the Katy was left in a predicament: find a merger partner or suffer severe financial losses and eventual bankruptcy. During the 1960's and 70's, the Katy had been involved in separate negotiations to merge with the Southern, the Frisco, and the Chicago Great Western. Rumor even has it the reason MKT management began painting the road's locomotives and rolling stock in green in the 1970s was that it was seeking to merge with the Burlington Northern, which itself was known by its green locomotives and cars!
In 1986, the MKT management's wishes finally came true when Union Pacific approached MKT with the offer of a buy-out. UP, which had added the Western Pacific system and the MP's immense Midwestern empire to its belt earlier in the decade, was interested primarily in Katy's Kansas City-Texas route. Thus, after two years and several months of intense negotiations, on Friday, May 13, 1988, the Interstate Commerce Commission finally granted the Union Pacific and Katy permission to consummate their planned merger. Immediately after the approval, the two systems continued to operate separately, but by December of 1989, the merger was fully completed and signs of the Katy's identity began to disappear. Trains on the Katy began to be pulled by Armour yellow UP engines, and trains pulled by green MKT units became fewer.
While the buy-out meant salvation for the Katy system as a majority, it meant death and decline to the remainder of the MKT operations in Missouri. For a brief period after the merger, Union Pacific continued to operate former MKT daily trains 101 and 102 between St. Louis and Dallas, via Sedalia and Parsons. However, being that UP already had its own major ex-MP mainlines from St. Louis to Texas, (via southeastern Missouri and Arkansas) the MKT St. Louis Sub was deemed redundant. In early 1989, 101 and 102 made their final runs, and became the very last trains to traverse the 30 miles between Sedalia and Clinton. All ex-MKT St. Louis traffic was simply consolidated into other UP trains on its own lines, thus rendering the ex-MKT through Missouri void of through traffic.
The line south of Sedalia sat silent for many months after traffic was rerouted (UP continued to serve the middle Ft. Scott to Clinton segment with a local train and the KCPL coal trains). Sedalia-Clinton had no customers, and the line didn't figure into plans for through traffic, and was abandoned. By 1991, the rails and ties were gone between Clinton and Sedalia were taken up (the tracks between Parsons and Ft. Scott were removed about the same time).
A fixture of their daily lives for over 100 years, towns such as Green Ridge, Windsor, and Calhoun would lose their railroad for good. UP then donated the right-of-way to the State of Missouri for an extension of the Katy Trail State Park.
Within the city of Sedalia, the entire mainline through town was retained by UP for industrial switching purposes. The MFA elevator on the south end of town and the Rhone-Puelanc chemical plant on the north end of town justified keeping the track in place.
As for the remaining "middle" segment of Ft. Scott to Clinton, the UP could still access and operate it via its ex-MP Carthage Subdivision, which crossed the old MKT at Nevada, MO. The sole salvation for the line to Clinton was the Kansas City Power & Light power plant at Ladue, and its need for weekly coal trains. In addition to the coal runs, UP locals continued to serve the on-line industries and grain elevators on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, UP continued to make additional "prunings" to the line. In 1991, it discontinued operations of the (ex-Frisco) "north stub" in Clinton. This segment had been used by MKT since the Frisco retrenchment in 1980 to serve two grain elevators on the north side of the city.
MNA Enters the Scene
In 1992, Union Pacific sold and leased its downgraded Carthage and White River Subdivisions to Railtex (now RailAmerica). Railtex named this new operation the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad (MNA).
Included in the package was the former MKT line from Ft. Scott through Nevada to Clinton. Traffic patterns on the old MKT line changed little after MNA began operations; the coal trains to Ladue continued to operate as usual, as did the as-needed-basis locals.
Downgrades and abandonments continued after MNA assumed operations. First of all, MNA abandoned and tore out the northern-most three remaining miles of track, between the former Frisco junction at Clinton to FPE Siding, which was the location of an agricultural fertilizer distribution plant. The right-of-way between those two points joined the rest of the abandoned St. Louis Division and was donated to the Stare for the Katy Trail.
The second downgrade occurred in 1997 after MNA moved the Ladue coal trains off the BN's Ft. Scott Sub and onto its own parallel ex-MP lines into Nevada. Formerly, the BN handed over its coal trains to the MKT at Ft. Scott, where they were then taken to Ladue and vice-versa. After MNA moved the coal trains to its old MP lines, the old MKT trackage from Ft. Scott to Nevada was rendered useless MNA did keep the rails in place though to store surplus rail cars. In 1998, BNSF (successor to the BN) finally removed the inactive ex-MKT crossing and diamonds in Ft. Scott, effectively severing the connection with the MNA.
The 90's and Beyond
In 1996, Union Pacific finally abandoned the southern Sedalia stub of the old MKT trackage, which ran from the UP mainline (north of the Katy Depot) to the MFA complex on the south end of town. Referred to in UP timetables as the "Campbell Stub," the sole customer on the line was the MFA elevator, which only received a few cars per year, and Sutherland's Lumber.
Sutherland’s built a new (off-line) mega-store on U.S. 65 in 1996, and then closed its smaller MKT-served store on U.S. 50. After traffic to the MFA elevator dropped off, UP threw in the towel and removed the tracks, donating the right-of-way to the State for the Katy Trail. Trail advocates had long wanted UP to abandon this segment, as it created a gap in the trail route.
The north segment (Alcolac Stub) to the old Rhone Puelanc plant was kept in place to store surplus rail cars. UP wanted to retain the line to serve the chemical plant, should a new owner reopen it. The Rhone Puelanc factory was shut down in the early 1990's after two major chemical leaks forced the plant to discontinue operations. UP finally gave up hope of the plant reopening and ripped out the track in 2000. The roadbed was donated for the Trail.
Today, MNA continues to operate an as-needed local run to Clinton, or as far as traffic dictates the need to travel. Frequency varies by month and season, but is usually every 5-10 days. Trains on the once 40 m.p.h. mainline between Ladue and Clinton now trundle along the rusty, weedy, decrepit track at 10 m.p.h. The only remaining rail customer in Clinton is Lowe Champion, which is located near the old Frisco junction along the remaining north end of the old Frisco line. Until the 1990's the Farmers’ Elevator and Rival Mfg. still received cars. The elevator switched to trucks and Rival closed down. Lowe Champion has been served by a team track near the old Frisco yard; the company moved into the Rival plant when it closed.
MNA has made it known that it will continue to operate to Clinton only until the tracks rot to the point of needing a major investment. In 2005, the railroad reached an agreement with the city, and all crossing signals in town were taken out of service and replaced with cross bucks.
Several smaller grain elevators and industries along the way, such as the ones in Montrose and Appleton City, continue to ship and receive various goods by rail. Most of these are agriculture-related industries that ship and receive only during the spring, summer and fall. However, the lifeblood of the old St. Louis Division is the KCPL power plant at Ladue. Trains operate several times per month from Nevada to the plant, which is located on a three-mile long spur off the "mainline" at Ladue. In 1998, KCPL constructed a new balloon track and rotary-dump unloading facility in order to more quickly and efficiently unload trains. With this kind of investment, KCPL will probably keep the old MKT St. Louis Division busy for many more years to come.