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William E. Gardner file photo

Former Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. CEO William Gardner sold his company to Watco Transportation Services.

A Kansas company is buying the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co.

Watco Transportation Services of Pittsburg, Kan., said Tuesday it will acquire controlling ownership of the Milwaukee-based rail company. Terms of the deal were not announced.

The Wisconsin & Southern is Wisconsin's second-largest railroad, operating more than 700 miles of track in southern Wisconsin and a small portion of northeastern Illinois. The company has terminal offices in Madison, Janesville and Horicon and access to harbor facilities on the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien. It employs 250.

Under the agreement, the Wisconsin & Southern will keep its existing corporate structure, including its name, operations and headquarters. William Gardner will continue to serve, indefinitely, as president of the Wisconsin and Southern.

Watco is one of the largest short-line railroad holding companies in the U.S. with 23 short-line railroads running on more than 3,700 miles of track.

"Together, Watco and the WSOR will play a vital role in meeting the growing needs of our customers and communities that rely upon rail as their primary means of transportation," Gardner said in a news release.

Gardner has been the subject of attention recently over the issue of campaign contributions. He pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal campaign contributions and in July was placed on two years of probation. Gardner acknowledged funneling more than $70,000 in illegal and excessive campaign contributions to Gov. Scott Walker and other candidates since 2003 by asking employees of the railroad to donate to the campaigns and then reimbursing them.

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