The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is requesting comments on its draft State Rail Plan, which provides an overview of freight rail networks in Kansas, commodity flows, economic data and information about passenger rail service in the state. Rail plan updates are required every five years. Federal guidelines require a public comment period of 30 days.
KDOT developed the Kansas State Plan—an update to its 2017 Kansas Statewide Rail Plan—to “guide the state’s vision for railroad transportation and to identify strategies to achieve this vision.” The plan meets federal requirements established under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) from 2008 and was prepared by CPCS Transcom Ltd., in association with TranSystems and High Street Consulting Group, and according to KDOT, will “provide a clear understanding of the freight and passenger rail systems; how industries and people use the rail system; and the system needs, issues and opportunities, so KDOT can make better informed policy and investment decisions.”
The framework for developing the State Rail Plan is based on relevant visions, goals and objectives identified in the Kansas 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), according to KDOT. Focus areas of the LRTP, including safety and security, transportation system management, asset preservation, freight and economic vitality, stewardship and workforce, guided the development of the State Rail Plan, which was developed through extensive public participation and involvement by the state’s rail stakeholders, including both freight and passenger railroads and rail users.
Kansas is served by more than 4,6000 miles of active rail in the state, with four Class I railroads—BNSF, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific (UP) and Kansas City Southern (KCS)—13 short lines and two switching and terminal railroads. In 2020, Kansas’ Class I railroads moved more than 5.7 million carloads, while its short line railroads moved almost 162,000 carloads.
Additionally, Kansas is served by one intercity, long-distance passenger rail route at six stations, operated exclusively over BNSF track: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief long-distance route between Chicago and Los Angeles, which helps support the movement of Kansas’ population of 2.9 million (as of 2019). According to the State Rail Plan, 53% of Kansas residents live within 25 miles of an Amtrak station, 75% within 50 miles.
According to the State Rail Plan, various trends, including growing urban populations; increasing median household incomes; well-trained workforces; disruptive events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, congestion and major weather events; Positive Train Control (PTC); and increasing average freight train length are some of the trends that will continue to impact Kansas’ freight and passenger rail system use and operation in the future.
KDOT identified 20 policy and program recommendations to guide next steps for freight and passenger rail planning, project identification, funding strategies, safety improvements and emissions reductions in Kansas. These recommendations include:
- Improving highway-rail grade crossings.
- Providing and/or supporting efforts to secure funding support for rail projects.
- Working with railroads to identify opportunities to invest in infrastructure improvements.
- Improving economic efficiency and benefits for Kansas rail system users.
- Improving ability to attract businesses to locate or expand in Kansas.
- Coordinating with Kansas’ rail workforce to accomplish State Rail Plan goals.
- Monitoring and supporting opportunities to implement new rail technologies.
Also part of the State Rail Plan is a Rail Service Investment Plan, in which KDOT states that it works with public and private stakeholders to maintain and improve Kansas’ freight and passenger rail system. Since 2000, KDOT has awarded more than $87 million to support freight rail projects in the state through the Rail Service Improvement Fund (RSID). KDOT’s new Short Line Rail Improvement Fund (SLRIF) has also provided more than $9.4 million to support the state’s short line rail system. Freight rail projects are also eligible for funding through KDOT’s Cost Share and Economic Development Programs.
Over the past two decades, KDOT has also provided support to federal grant applications, with short line system infrastructure improvement projects securing $48.6 million in federal grant funds, and the Southwest Chief passenger route in and near Kansas securing $61.2 million in federal grants. KDOT also administers funds for highway-rail grade crossings through the Section 130 program.
“KDOT has a long history of working with rail and industry stakeholders on rail projects and programs in the state,” KDOT stated in the State Rail Plan. “KDOT will continue to advocate for rail system improvements, support and provide matching funds for federal grant applications and administer state-funded programs that allocate funding to rail system improvement projects to maintain and improve Kansas’ freight and passenger rail system.”
As mentioned, the framework for developing the Kansas State Rail Plan is based on the relevant visions, goals and objectives in the Kansas 2045 LRTP. And, in addition to the statewide rail-related vision (policy) and goals, a detailed assessment of the rail system’s conditions, needs and investment opportunities will guide the development of the State Rail Plan.
The process used to conduct the Kansas State Rail Plan—State (LRTP) Vision and Goals, Rail System Evaluation, Identify Rail System Needs, Identify Opportunities & Priority Investments—“promotes consistency between the Plan’s rail investments and recommendations, and Kansas’ overarching statewide transportation guidance,” KDOT said.
Read more about KDOT’s rail vision and goals in the full State Rail Plan (above). Public comments must be submitted to KDOT by July 22.