Historic train route has local trainmaster
Just two segments of the original Marion to McPherson Santa Fe rail line remain in use today. They are between Ellenwood and Lyons and from three miles west of Conway to three miles east of McPherson.
Christopher Blackman, 47, of Marion, oversees usage of those lines along with several other segments that are part of the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad.
The segment between Florence and Marion was abandoned in 1969, and the stretch between Marion and McPherson was abandoned in 1992, after heavy rain washed out tracks along the route.
Central Kansas Railway acquired the short lines in central Kansas, and KO took them over in 2001. KO owns 820 miles of short lines and has trackage rights on another 84 miles.
Some rail segments stretch from Wichita to the Colorado border and beyond. One line runs down to Newton from McPherson.
Blackman goes to work in McPherson every day at 6 a.m. He briefs crews of 10 to 12 engineers and conductors on where they will be going that day, what industries they will be serving, and what train cars to pick up or set off. They operate seven locomotives.
Short lines carry a variety of products including propane, chemicals, grain, etc. They connect with Union Pacific or Burlington Northern Santa Fe lines. KO has an agreement with those lines to exchange cars.
“It’s a pretty good job,” Blackman said. “I deal with customers and crew every day. It is one of the best jobs I’ve had.”
Blackman got the job as trainmaster after moving back to Marion with his family three years ago. The Marion High School graduate joined the Air Force after high school. He met his wife, Jennifer, while serving in the Air Force in North Dakota. They lived there after he left the Air Force and worked as an engineer for 13 years. He still is certified as an engineer.
They have a blended family of five children. Benjamin, Matthew, and Josh have graduated from high school; Bailey, 17, is a senior; and Brayden, 11, is a sixth grader.
Blackman summed up his job this way: “I make sure the trains go where they need to go.”
Last modified March 8, 2018