Governor Kelly Announces $47M in Federal Funds for Two Kansas Rail Projects

TOPEKA – Governor Laura Kelly today announced two short-line railroad companies in Kansas are being awarded a combined $47 million in federal funding for rail improvement projects as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

Watco, based in Pittsburg and with rail operations across the western and southeast portions of Kansas, is being granted up to $15.7 million to convert eight locomotives into fully battery-powered units. In southeast Kansas, the Neodesha Subdivision of the South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad (SKOL), a subsidiary of Watco, will receive up to $31.2 million for track-related improvements.

“Through public/private partnerships, we are stepping up to take advantage of once-in-a-generation infrastructure funding made available through BIL – resulting in big wins for Kansas,” said Governor Laura Kelly. “Congratulations to Watco for identifying and advancing short-line railroad projects that will improve operational efficiencies for the benefit of our farmers and rural communities.”

The two Kansas projects are part of a $1.4 billion investment being made by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) into 70 rail improvement projects in 35 states and Washington, D.C. This is the largest amount ever awarded for rail safety and rail supply chain upgrades through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program.

“The CRISI program will help us achieve greater efficiency for our customers on the SKOL Railroad and the opportunity to build new zero emissions locomotives to be deployed on the Kaw River Railroad,” said Dan Smith, Watco Chief Executive Officer. “We have tremendous gratitude for our partnership with KDOT in helping secure this critical funding to make these improvements possible.”

Nearly two-thirds of this round of CRISI funding is being directed to rural communities.

Projects selected through the CRISI program support community safety through track improvements, bridge rehabilitations, fewer highway-rail grade crossings, upgrades on routes carrying hazardous materials, reduced emissions, and more.

“We appreciate our continued partnership with the FRA and Kansas railroads as we continue to upgrade rail infrastructure critical to the local, regional, and national economy,” said Cory Davis, Director of KDOT’s Multimodal Transportation and Innovation. “The selected projects will result in faster and more reliable deliveries of goods, safer communities, cleaner transportation, and more jobs and workforce development opportunities for Kansans.”

Kansas – 2023 CRISI projects

  • kWat: Electrifying Watco Locomotives Project (Up to $15,740,943) – The project involves final design and construction to convert eight locomotives into fully battery-powered units to be deployed across Watco’s short-line railroads in varying operational and geographic environments. The project will improve system and service performance and reduce emissions and maintenance expenses. Watco is providing a 20% match.
  • Southeast Kansas Short Line Rail Upgrade and Growth Project (Up to $31,225,484) –The project will improve approximately 37 miles of South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad track, improving operations and capacity. CRISI funds provide SKOL the ability to increase load-carrying capacity to meet customer demand. KDOT and SKOL will provide a 20% match.
Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.


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