CONWAY, S.C. After more than a year without rail service, officials in two South Carolina counties and one in North Carolina are trying to get it back on track.
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported officials in Horry and Marion counties in South Carolina and in Columbus County, N.C., have formed a committee to address the lack of rail service.
The officials from government and business consider rail transportation critical to the area, not only to support current jobs but also to encourage businesses to expand and to attract new businesses.
Conway-based Carolina Southern Railroad owns 93 miles of track in the three counties and has not operated since August 2011 because of structural problems on some of its bridges.
The company has spent $400,000 so far on the seven bridges with problems severe enough to shut down operations, said Jason Pippin, the railroad’s general manager and son of owner Ken Pippin. The railroad has completed work on three, and Pippin estimated it will cost another $1.5 million to finish work on the remaining four bridges..
But the Pippins can’t afford the repairs. They’re already using their personal funds to keep open Carolina Southern’s offices in the Conway Train Depot
Doug Wendel, chairman of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. and committee co-chair, said possibilities include buying out the railroad and a loan to fix the bridges and make other improvements.
Brad Lofton, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said industries are looking at two things as essential when scouting new locations. The first, he said, is access to an interstate highway, which Horry County cannot give them.
“If you don’t have interstates,” Lofton said, “then you’ve got to have rail.”
Both recruitment of new businesses and existing companies are suffering because of Carolina Southern’s shutdown, he said. Existing businesses, such as MetGlass in the Atlantic Center, must find alternative, more expensive ways to get raw materials in the absence of rail service. About 800 workers in Horry County have jobs with businesses that rely on railroad service, he said.
Gary Lanier, director of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission, said at least one business has laid off employees because of the railroad’s shutdown and others might not expand as the economy improves. They could move operations elsewhere if rail service isn’t restored, he said.
“(Rail service) is a key piece of infrastructure for us,” Lanier said.