Civic Affairs in WICHITA, Kansas, USA

Occasional News & Topics in Community Affairs
Copyright 2010-2016 by Richard Harris*

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As a commercial and industrial center, freight transport is critical to the success of Wichita. Wichita's modes of freight transportation -- past, present or future -- include...

Wichita is home to extensive distribution and warehouse operations, and to railroad operations for the several railroads that converge here, and is a terminal or home base for various inter-city bus services, trucking companies, and air freight operations. Several airlines operate in and out of Wichita, as well, adding to air freight capacity.

Wichita is a key center of the grain industry, and provides transportation, storage, processing and shipment of grain for much of the central U.S., supplying the world. Over a dozen giant grain elevators tower over Wichita's landscape -- sending and receiving grain via rail and truck. And the nation's largest private agri-business, Cargill, has major flour-milling and soybean-processing factories here, along with the headquarters of their meat division -- America's 3rd-largest beef producer. Meat packing is also a major part of Wichita's industry, and shipping.

Parcel, Express Delivery & Courier Service
(Local & Inter-City)

The Wichita area is served by various small-parcel and express-delivery services, including international package-delivery services like FedEx and UPS, and by other carriers as well. While UPS and FedEx and other commercial parcel-express shipment centers are inconveniently located (at the airport, on the city's fringe), there are several commercial stores operated by them, and by 3rd parties, which serve as pickup sites, and provide related goods and services.

Of course, their chief rival, the U.S. Post Office provides some parcel and express delivery services, as well, from several post offices in the Wichita area -- though with less accommodating hours and usually longer waiting lines. The Post Office offers the advantage of legally registered and certified shipments, under federal law, and guaranteed delivery virtually anywhere -- though not always as quickly as commercial services.

Wichita-based Metro Courier service operates a wide range of regional inter-city and local delivery vehicles, from compact cars running around the city to heavy trucks hauing throughout the state.

Also, the local taxi services will provide courier service, delivering packages -- often in less time than it takes to make other arrangments, or even on a fairly reliable scheduled basis.

Additionally, several Wichita-area businesses offer free delivery of their merchandise. These include industrial suppliers, print shops, equipment rental agencies, some fast-food carry-outs (pizza, mostly), a few grocery stores and pharmacies, medical and home-healthcare equipment suppliers, flower shops, and more.

Truck/Van/Trailer Rental

For individuals and enterprises willing to carry their own cargo, themselves, using a rented truck, mini-van, panel-van, box van or trailer, there are several national and local vehicle-rental services availalble.

Pickup trucks, mini-vans and panel-vans can be rented from various car-rental agencies (which mosstly rent sedans). Most are based near the airport, but will provide free delivery and pick-up of vehicles and/or drivers. Most national agencies are here, including Budget, Hertz, Avis, National and Enterprise.

National truck-rental companies -- such as U-Haul, Ryder and Penske -- also provide truck, mini-van, panel-van, box van or trailer rentals. (Renting from U-Haul is cheaper than Ryder or Penske, but fraught with consumer snares and many bad experiences.)

Some locally-based small rental operators also rent trucks, vans and/or trailers, and some also rent freight-handling equipment, such as cranes, fork lifts or conveyor belt ramps. (Some local companies specialize in such equipment, or add it to their rentals of construction equipment).

Rentals of these vehicles can be for local operations, cross-country round-trips, or (in some cases, by arrangement) one-way cross-country trips. From time to time, other local vehicle- or equipment-rental companies offer various rental options, as well -- mostly simple trailers, with varying levels of service, quality, safety and consumer financial risk.

Some (perhaps most) will only rent to those with credit cards, or by other elaborate pre-paid arrangements. Most vehicle rentals come with great consumer risk: An accident or minor damage to a vehicle can result in lawsuits or automatic withdrawals from the customers bank or credit card. Insurance policies held or sold by the rental agency may not really cover the renter or any of his passengers or cargo in an acutal accident or minor damage situation.

Vehicle malfunctions (flat tires, running out of fuel, mechanical troubles, etc.) may or may not be covered -- indeed, the renter may be charged for them -- and assistance may or may not be available to the stranded renter. In some cases, a renter may be required to pay for towing the vehicle back to the rental agency. Delays in returning a vehicle, even if not the fault of the renter, may be charged to them. Many record-keeping errors and paperwork irregularities seem to happen at rental agencies, often resulting in surprising and extremely severe financial consequences to the renter.

Disputes between rental agencies and renters -- over what is, and what is not, owed -- are common. And usually the consumer loses. With Republicans' and Libertarians' strong pro-business, anti-consumer bias -- and their dominance of state government -- most Kansas Legislators and the Governor have declined to seroiusly address the problem.


The Wichita area is a trucking hub for Kansas and the Kansas/Oklahoma/Texas region. Several truck lines -- local, regional, and long-haul, over-the-road ("OTR") operators -- operate here, and a few are based here, or in nearby towns.

Because of its vast distances, and its crossroads location for the nation, Kansas has always been a state with an exceptional involvement with trucking. Kansas City is home to a truck factory, and Topeka is home to a major large-tire factory.

Impact of Trucking on Roadways

Contrary to popular misconception, automobiles and heavy trucks do not put proportionally equal amounts of wear on a road -- that is to say, 20 cars, each weighing a single ton, do not put as much wear on the road as a single 20-ton truck. In fact, owing to a variety of technical factors, that truck may put over 300 times as much wear on the road as those 20 cars, in the same time and distance.

This is true for other heavy vehicles, as well -- particularly fire trucks, construction equipment, and buses.

Governor Graves & the Highway Bill

A side note about trucking and Kansas: Kansas has an extraordinary state-funded roads program, developed in the 1990s, which has been controversial.

Owing to a combination of Kansas' vast distances, the ascension of trucking millionaire Bill Graves to Governor, and the political pressures of the road-development industry -- combined with a tolerant Legislature in good economic times -- Kansas embarked upon a radical expansion and renovation of its road and highway system during the 1990s, and commited to decades of such work, at great public expense (largely indebting future generations).

In the mid-late 1990s, Kansas elected the heir to a trucking magnate, Bill Graves, as governor. Graves set aside all other state priorities to push, hard, for an utterly unprecedented, massive highway-development program-- dwarfing all other state expenditures -- effectively obligating and indebting the states' future generations for years to come, to improve the highways that his company's trucks relied upon.

Upon completion of his second term, Graves was rewarded by the trucking industry's primary lobbying firms (the "American Trucking Associations") who hired Graves as its Executive Director a role he sitll holds as of 2016.

However, in the collapse of later governor, Sam Brownback's "Kansas Experiment," the long-term highway fund set up by Graves has subsequently been raided, repeatedly, by the new governor and his legislature (insistent on cutting taxes, then finding themselves forced to either raise taxes, or "steal" money from any source possible, to keep the state government solvent).

More on this topic will be provided in an upcoming enhancement of this site.

Railroads & Freight Trains

Railroads are, by far, the most efficient long-distance overland freight transportation -- offering a ratio of miles-traveled, per pound-of-freight, per gallon-of-fuel, that is radically greater than any viable air or roadway freight vehicle.

However, trains have conspicuous limitations and complications, including the need to keep to very limited, pre-defined rail routes, on very specific, slow schedules. While freight trains offer great economy-of-scale, they are wildly impractical for anything less than heavy, bulk shipments -- scheduled in advance.

And, by their nature, trains are a hazard and obstacle to all other forms of transporation, and -- increasingly (in this new era of massive oil shipments by rail) -- a hazard to people living and working around them.

Several rail lines converge on Wichita, from all points of the compass. Most notable are

  • the BNSF (Burlington-Northern/SantaFe) national rail lines, with railyard and maintenance facilities (shown here) in the city's north-central area (near the remains of the demolished Derby oil refinery, and alongside one of the district's many large grain elevators); and
  • the "K-O" (Kansas-Oklahoma Railroad, also known as the "Katy"), a short-haul regional railroad, with railyard and maintenance facilities in southwest Wichita.

    Wichita's main rail corridor, running north-and-south through the center of the city, just east of downtown, was once the transporation spine of Wichita's main industrial zone, between Washington and Santa Fe streets, from one end of the city to the other. The rail corridor still fulfills that role for areas north and south of the newly-elevated section of the railroad that runs alongside downtown, north to 13th Street.

    It should be noted that the railyards and major rail routes through Wichita are among the most-polluted grounds in the city, owing in part -- presumably -- to leaks and spills from locomotives and freight cars (particularly tank cars).

    One of the city's main railyards, just southeast of downtown, runs all along the "Gilbert & Mosley" industrial corridor, infamous for its EPA Superfund toxic waste clean up site, resulting from extreme contamination of the ground, including a large underground "plume" of groundwater heavily contaminated with a wide range of chemicals that have leached into the soil over many decades.

    Rail is especially important to Wichita-area manufacturers and wholesalers
    -- who ship everything from raw food and cement, to tractors and jetliner bodies. Fuel and chemical suppliers in the Wichita area are also heavily dependent upon rail. However, most fuels and chemicals passing through Wichita are coming from, and headed to, other places -- while putting Wichitans at risk as the transient rail cars wind through residential neighborhoods, and along elevated tracks overlooking downtown Wichita and the state's largest hospital (Via Christi - St. Francis).

    The explosive boom in U.S. oil production has led to an explosive boom in long trains of oil tank cars (filled with enough flammable fluid to incinerate whole sections of the city), increasingly passing through the heart of the city -- routinely in trains of more than 100 cars.

    In recent years, rail line mergers and takeovers -- and drastic changes in train routing -- have led to frequent trains of more than 100 cars passing through the city at all hours -- tying up all other transportation (personal autos, buses, commercial and emergency vehicles) at rail crossings, for a cumulative time of hours each day.

    To ameliorate the problem, an elevated railway has recently been erected from Downtown Wichita at Waterman Street to just beyond 13th Street North -- significantly reducing traffic blockage in these areas. But points further north and south, and other tracks to the west -- across most of the city -- continue to be severely affected by railroad crossing delays, often lasting more than five minutes, several times daily, on multiple tracks.

    In recent years, collisions and derailments of similar trains elsewhere -- some resulting in toxic leaks and/or catastrophic fires -- have destroyed adjacent property, and nearly or actually destroyed large areas of small towns, sometimes fatally, and in one horrific case, with destruction of the city center and massive loss of life.


    Numerous other cases of freight train collisions, derailments, toxic leaks and fires have caused -- or had the intensity to potentially cause -- death, widespread injury and/or destruction in areas through which the trains pass. For instance...

  • Jan. 30, 2000 - Bloomington, MN
  • July 18, 2001 - Baltimore, MD
  • Jan. 18, 2002 - Minot, ND
  • Nov.29, 2005 - Graniteville, SC
  • Oct.  7, 2011 - near Tiskilwa, IL
  • Dec. 30, 2013 - Casselton, ND
  • April 30, 2014 - Lynchburg, VA
  • August 17, 2014 - Hoxie, AR
  • October 5, 2014 - Mer Rouge, LA
  • Feb. 16, 2015 - near Mount Carbon, WV
  • Mar.  6, 2015 - near Galena, IL
  • May  6, 2015 - near Heimdal, ND
  • July  2, 2015 - near Knoxville, TN
  • May 1, 2016 - Washington, DC
  • June  3, 2016 - near Mosier, OR
  • July 28, 2016 - Spring City, TN
  • Mar. 10, 2017 - near Graettinger, IA
  • May 15, 2017 - Elkhart, IL
  • February 4, 2018 - Cayce, SC
  • May 19, 2018 - Alexandria/Franconia, VA
  • June 17, 2018 - Princeton, IN
  • Jan.  6, 2019 - near Bartow, GA

    The U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Congress, continue to "consider" the emerging issue, and the oil-train risk has been used as an argument for allowing the controversial, environmentally-hazardous "Keystone-XL" pipeline to be built across the Great Plains.

    However, that pipeline (which has leaked several times) threatens to irreversibly contimate (and possibly destroy) the massive Ogallala aquifer (underground lake) that supplies water to five states, including, most especially, Kansas. Most of Western Kansas agriculture, and many Kansas communities, are almost entirely dependent upon the aquifer for their survival and prosperity, and much of the Kansas economy.

    (For more on the Wichita connection with the Keystone-XL pipeline, and its effects on state politics, see the Pipelines sub-topic, below.

    Air Freight

    Wichita is served by multiple national and international air freight operations, particuarly FedEx and UPS, at Eisenhower Airport's Air Cargo terminal, just west of the airport passenger terminal.

    Further, limited air-freight service is available on most of the several national and regional passenger airlines serving Wichita. Air cargo can be carried in cargo holds normally used for passengers' checked baggage. However, security regulations for passenger airliners is extremely demanding, and can complicate shipping via passenger airline.

    In addition, Wichita is served by a fleet of Russian heavy jet transports -- the Antonov An-124, the world's largest active aircraft in wide use. The Antonov's are used to transport business-jet fuselages to Wichita from subcontractors abroad.

    Additionally, local charter-flying services will also provide on-demand charters that carrying limited amounts of air freight.

    A side note about air freight and Wichita: Cessna's wildly successful single-engine turboprop utility plane -- the Cessna Caravan -- was developed largely around a specification by FedEx, who became the primary customer for the aircraft, ordering many dozens of them.

    More on this topic will be provided in an upcoming enhancement of this site.

    Bus Freight (Greyhound)

    Wichita is served by Greyhound Bus Lines, the nation's main inter-city passenger bus service. Small cargo can be carried in cargo holds normally used for passengers' checked baggage. However, there are very demanding limilts on what may be carried, and the extent to which it is subject to inspection, due to the carriage of passengers on the bus.

    Greyhound has various routes passing through Wichita, connecting the city to Topeka, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Denver. A couple of "slow boat" routes wander through the Kansas countryside connecting many small towns with Wichita. Service is generally once daily on any route, and bus arrivals and departures, on some routes, are made in the wee hours of the night.

    The original, old Greyhound / Continental Trailways terminal is in south-central downtown, on Broadway, between Douglas and Kellogg. Very limited, short-term parking is available on the north side of the buildling for bus freight customers. Frieght must be delivered to, and picked up from, the bus terminals; Greyhound does not provide door-to-door delivery.

    However, for those who can work with it, if the destination is a normal Greyhound stop, bus freight can be farily expedient and cheap.

    Greyhound is a commercial entity, loosely regulated by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

    Much more on Greyhound's Wichita bus service is in the Inter-City Bus subtopic on the PASSENGER page of this site.

    Riverboat & Barge

    Boating, within the city limits, is very limited, and only used for recreation.

    The Arkansas River is navigable by barge and riverboat from the Mississippi River to near Tulsa (since the 1970s). However, local. state, and federal authorities decided not to extend the shipping channel all the way to Wichita. Global warming and subsequent drought -- often exposing the riverbed in Kansas -- have vindicated their decision.

    However, it should be noted that waterway transport -- though generally the slowest form of inland transport -- is generally regarded as the most efficient for heavy freight, particularly bulk shipments of raw commodities (grain, oil, ore, etc.) -- surpassing even the efficiency of rail transport, at least when traveling downstream. (Though, it should be noted, these efficiency measurements do not always take into account the economic burden of waterway development and maintenance -- a very great expense in river transport, mostly borne by the government).

    More on this topic will be provided in an upcoming enhancement of this site.


    Pipelines provide an efficient, fast and simple mode of transport for vast quantities of fluids -- particularly water, wastewater, oil, gas, and ore-slurry.

    In addition to local utility pipelines carrying water and natural gas to consumers, and collecting sewage and stormwater drainage, Wichita is served by multiple national and regional pipelines (mainly for oil and gas), some of which have major terminals or pumping stations in the Wichita area -- and some of which are headquartered in Wichita.

    Pipelines create complications in the development of land and other transportation routes. For instance, pipelines must often be run along bridges -- and their disconnection (such as to demolish a bridge, to make room for building another) can pose unacceptable interruptions of service. Free-standing pipelines over rivers (including a few over the Arkansas River and its tributaries) can create complications in waterway useage. And the presence of pipelines can force limits on those building other routes over them.

    Wichita's Utility Pipelines

    Wichita's utility pipelines are aging, as in cities nationwide, and largely in need of replacement However, city government has shown reluctance to prioritize maintenance and updating of existing lines -- over building new ones in new additions to the city, for the convenience of developers.

    Koch & Keystone-XL

    A side note about pipelines and Wichita: Wichita's Koch Industries -- usually the nation's largeest privately-held company, and headed by Wichita's most-influential billiionare, Charles Koch -- has built its fortunes largely on its pipeline network, the largest in the U.S., and perhaps the world.

    Koch enterprises or leaders have also been involved with the controversial "Keystone-XL" pipeline, a projected pipeline to deliver Canada's tar-sands oil to refineries and ports on the Gulf of Mexico, passing through the Great Plains states, and passing near Wichita.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Congress, continue to "consider" the emerging issue, and the oil-train risk has been used as an argument for allowing the controversial, environmentally-hazardous "Keystone-XL" pipeline to be built across the Great Plains.

    However, that pipeline (which has leaked several times) threatens to irreversibly contimate (and possibly destroy) the massive Ogallala aquifer (underground lake) that supplies water to five states, including, most especially, Kansas. Most of Western Kansas agriculture, and many Kansas communities, are almost entirely dependent upon the aquifer for their survival and prosperity, and much of the Kansas economy.

    (That pipeline has been effectively halted by the Obama administration, but may be resumed in the next administration.)

    Initially, the Keystone XL pipeline faced not only federal opposition, but opposition from state governments and officials in the affected states -- including Kansas. Kansas' Governor at the time (Kathleen Sebelius, Democrat), had appointed Secretary Brenby to head the Kansas Dept. of Health & Environment (KDHE) -- and, in that role, Brenby had acted, aggressively, to block the construction of a coal-fired electric powerplant on broad environmental grounds. That action made it seem likely that Brenby could be a staunch opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, as well.

    It has been speculated that the Kochs' unusually aggressive moves -- in recent years -- towards a political takeover of Kansas state government (including the Legislature and Governor) may have been driven (at least in part) by fears of Keystone-XL opposition from Kansas officials.

    Subsequently, the Kochs began unusually heavy and open involvement in Kansas state politics -- donating broadly to libertarian and conservative candidates who, once elected, largely acted to counter Brenby's and Sibelius's environmental efforts.

    Following the takeover of Kansas government by Koch-backed candidates -- particularly Gov. Sibelius's successor, Gov. Sam Brownback (closely allied with the Kochs) -- the Keystone XL pipeline faced no measurable opposition from Kansas authorities.

    More on Pipelines...

    In addition to utility and oil-and-gas pipelines, Wichita has a number of minor pipelines -- some long, but most short -- for various industrial liquids and gasses.

    More on this topic will be provided in an upcoming enhancement of this site.

    Participate - Let your voice be heard!