State-run Palmetto Railways filed an application Wednesday for a permit to build a rail line allowing Volvo Cars to transport vehicles from its Berkeley County manufacturing plant to dealerships nationwide.
The request seeks approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to fill 103 acres of wetlands and clear nearly 17 acres across a 22.7-mile stretch of land. The rail link would connect Volvo's site at the Camp Hall Commerce Park with an existing CSX Corp. line near Santee Cooper's Cross Generating Station.
Volvo says roughly 42,000 vehicles would move each year by rail, replacing thousands of trucks, once the manufacturing site reaches full production.
Rail access also is seen as a key recruiting tool for other manufacturers that might locate at the nearly 6,800-acre Camp Hall industrial park in rural Berkeley County.
"By establishing this new, rail-served industrial corridor ... South Carolina will have the opportunity to attract much-needed taxable investment and job creation to an under-served area of our state that will be able to share in the economic prosperity driven by growth in and around Charleston," said state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.
The Commerce Department's Palmetto Railways has proposed buying land for preservation and credits in an existing wetlands mitigation bank as compensation for the wetlands that would be destroyed while building the rail line. The Army Corps is assessing the environmental impact and will accept public comments on the proposal through May 4.
The proposed route is one of six Palmetto Railways evaluated, according to the permit application. The public railroad said the proposed route has the least impact to environmental, cultural and socio-economic resources of those that were studied.
The rail link is among $200 million worth of incentives the Commerce Department promised Volvo in 2015 to get the Swedish automaker to build its $1.1 billion campus off Interstate 26 near Ridgeville. The state's contract with Volvo calls for the rail line to be completed within a year after the automaker starts production. Volvo has said it will start building a redesigned S60 sedan at the site this summer.
Palmetto Railways has applied for a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding American grant that would pay for up to 50 percent of rail link's costs, which have not been announced.
Part of the construction also will be financed by a portion of $46 million in bonds the state approved last year to help Volvo expand its Lowcountry site.
Jeff McWhorter, the railroad's president and CEO, said "the project is undergoing continuous analysis and development, and therefore, the overall cost is still yet to be finalized."
In addition, state officials last year gave the short-line railroad permission to spend up to $5.5 million on right-of-way acquisitions along the 22.7-mile path. McWhorter said Palmetto Railways has started the acquisition process through a consultant but has not yet purchased any property .
Volvo is the anchor tenant at the Camp Hall site, and its first U.S. manufacturing campus will employ nearly 4,000 workers by 2023. In addition to the S60, the automaker will build its XC90 SUV on a second production line in South Carolina beginning in 2021.
At full production, the automaker plans to build 150,000 cars annually.