SUBLETTE — In the heart of Kansas' agricultural region, farmers and grain merchants have relied on the Cimarron Valley Railroad, a short-line railroad that helps get their crops to market, for the past 13 years.
Now, with the help of a partnership between the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Port Authority of the Southwest and the railroad, much-needed upgrades will be made to the track.
"It's a major rehabilitation project," said John Maddox, with the freight and rail unit of the Kansas Department of Transportation. New cross ties will be installed and new ballast, as well as other track components, including some rail replacement.
The project will cost $15 million, with each partner contributing $5 million.
According to Maddox, KDOT's money is coming from a grant and a convertible incentive-based loan.
"This is not federal money," he said. "These are state funds through the rail service improvement fund."
The rail lines run from Boise City, Okla., through Elkhart, Satanta and to Dodge City. It also travels west from Satanta, through Grant and Stanton counties and into eastern Colorado.
Teresa Propeck, marketing director for the Western Group, the railroad's parent company, based in Ogden, Utah, said the line's business was growing.
"The railroad improvements are literally a foundation for growth," said Greg Kissel, executive vice president of the Western Group. "Upgrading the track structure should make it possible to attract new businesses to a number of cities and counties scattered across southwest Kansas."
In Sublette, with a bumper fall harvest, the line of trucks dumping crops at the Sublette Cooperative has been causing traffic jams.
Meanwhile workers are shipping tons of grain from the past summer's harvest.
On a recent afternoon, workers loaded cars of corn to be shipped southwest to Hugoton and Seaboard Farms, said Gaylord Sanneman, manager of the Sublette Co-operative.
At Dodge City and Boise City, the short-line rail connects with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line.
In recent years, the Cimarron Valley Railroad has grown to include 24 employees supervised by Satanta resident Henry Hale, a former Santa Fe railroad conductor.
"For a short-line railroad, they do a wonderful job," Sanneman said. "This year they purchased some of their own cars, used on their own tracks."
Loading grain cars and sending them directly southwest to Seaboard is something new this year.
"It helps us to be more efficient to move grain. It's a little cheaper to move by railcar than truck," Sanneman said.
No starting date has been set to begin the improvements, Maddox said.
The project will take about five years to complete.