Location: Kansas

The Katy Trail in Kansas — What Could Have Been

MKT LogoSadly, there is no “Katy Trail” in Kansas, but judging by the name of the railroad the trail is based on — the M-K-T (Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway) — there should be!

(As an aside, isn’t it odd that the most famous portion of the Katy Trail is in Missouri, while “Katy” — “K.T.” — stands for “Kansas” and “Texas”?)

Here’s a listing of most of the railroad sections in Kansas that were either built by the MKT, or would ultimately be owned by the MKT:

Section Built Miles Cities Current Status
Junction City to Chetopa 1869-70 by the MKT 182.50 Junction City, Council Grove, Americus, Emporia, Burlington, Neosho Falls, Chanute, Parsons, Labette, Oswego, Chetopa Lost from Council Grove to Parsons (~150 miles), still in use south of Parsons
Parsons to Missouri State Line 1871 by the MKT 53.50 Parsons, St. Paul, Walnut, Fort Scott Lost
Paola to Missouri State Line 1872 by the MKT 15.00 Paola, Somerset, Lousiburg Abandoned in 1958, Lost
Paola to Parsons 1886-88 by the Kansas City & Pacific Railroad 93.75 Paola, Parker, Centerville, Kincaid, Moran, Elsmore, Erie, Parsons Still in use
Parsons to Coffeyville 1887 by the Parsons & Pacific Railroad 31.25 Parsons, Mound Valley, Angola, Coffeyville Lost
Coffeyville to Oklahoma State Line 1888 by the MKT 5.00 Coffeyville Still in use
Cherokee Junction to Mineral 1895 by the Southwestern Mineral Railway 17.00 Labette, West Mineral Lost
West Mineral to Missouri State Line 1901 by the Missouri, Kansas & Northwestern Railroad 23.20 West Mineral, Columbus, Galena Lost between West Mineral & Columbus (~9 miles); still in use between Columbus & state line
Moran to Iola 1901-02 by the Fort Scott, Iola & Western Railway 15.20 Moran, La Harpe, Iola Lost

By my count, that’s roughly 290 miles of railroad that has been abandoned, and lost forever.

What’s heartbreaking is that, if you look at the routes using satellite maps, the right-of-way is still clearly visible as treelines and off-grid roads, broken by missing bridges and plowed fields reclaiming the former rail line.

For example, here’s an overhead view of the town of Somerset, with the rail corridor being the curving line of trees running from the northeast to the in the west. The track is long gone, and you can see that houses have actually been built on the old right-of-way, but the route is otherwise unused:

From the ground, the route is often harder to make out, but in a few places, the old line is still visible, as in this photo, also from Somerset, KS:

Looking at this makes me sad, particularly as this line ran from Paola to Sedalia, Missouri. If it had been saved, we could have connected directly to the Katy Trail State Park at Sedalia.

Likewise with the line running from Parsons to Fort Scott, which was the MKT “main line”, running through Nevada, MO and on to Clinton, MO — currently the western terminus of the Katy Trail.

But the longest length of lost corridor, from Junction City to Parsons, is perhaps the most regrettable of all — 150 miles of rail-trail running along the Neosho River and through the heart of the Flint Hills, connecting to the Flint Hills Nature Trail at Council Grove. It would have been an amazing resource for Kansas.

Of course, most of these lines were abandoned long before the National Trails System Act of 1983 was enacted to allow no-longer-active rail corridors to be converted to trails — railbanked — to hold the right-of-way in case the country ever needed to rebuild the railroads.

Here’s a very rough map of the MKT in the state of Kansas:

The red lines are what has been lost; the brown lines still carry railroad traffic.

And of course there are hundreds of miles of additional, non-MKT, rail lines that have disappeared over time throughout the state of Kansas. Opportunities lost.

Here are some additional links for researching the MKT railroad:

And finally, there is a bit of the old MKT alive in Kansas. Here is an engine used by the Midland Railway, an excursion train that runs out of Baldwin City, Kansas (on non-MKT tracks, ironically):

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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web’s premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

One response to “The Katy Trail in Kansas — What Could Have Been”

  1. Dan Yates says:

    Yes there is a Katy trail in Kansas, I am not sure of the routes that might have been abandoned, but the original Katy hub was in Parsons Ks. The annual “Katy Days” celebration is there with an excellent duathlon. I will do some digging and see if there is any old abandoned routes. During the coal mining days in the southeast Ks area there was a heavy rail presence. Stands to mind there are rails that could be made into trails.