Palmetto Railways intermodal facility at Navy Base (copy)

A rendering shows the train and cargo-transfer hub that Palmetto Railways plans to build on the former Navy base in North Charleston to serve a new cargo container terminal being built nearby. It would be used by Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp. Provided/Palmetto Railways

With all of its federal permits now in hand, Palmetto Railways has hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist to help secure federal funding for a rail yard linked to a new container terminal under construction in North Charleston.

The Charleston-based, short-line railroad, a division of the state's Commerce Department, recently hired Cassidy & Associates Inc., which calls itself a bi-partisan government relations firm, according to a federal lobbying registration form filed last week.

The firm will be paid $50,000 over a six-month period and will also focus on finding money for a rail link to be built at the Volvo Cars manufacturing campus near Ridgeville.

"The scale of these significant infrastructure projects, both of which have statewide impact, has created the need for Palmetto Railways to seek federal funding," said Jeff McWhorter, the railroad's president and CEO. "This is the first time Palmetto Railways has sought outside assistance to support our ongoing effort to seek funding for these important projects."

Palmetto Railways last week received approval from the Federal Railroad Administration for construction of the North Charleston rail yard, where cargo containers will be transferred between trucks and rail cars as they are hauled to and from the nearby Leatherman Terminal to be operated by the State Ports Authority on the city's former Navy base.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit in September for the project, officially known as the Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility.

While the rail yard is designed to reduce the number of trucks hauling cargo over highways, municipalities have expressed concerns over local and emergency traffic tie-ups at railroad crossings. The project "continues to prompt significant concerns," Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg told the Army Corps in a letter.

Palmetto Railways has proposed paying for an analysis to examine conditions at crossings and identify potential improvements.

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Palmetto Railways has said construction could begin this year, with completion scheduled for about the same time the new container terminal opens in 2021. The $291 million rail hub is proposed for 118 acres near Hobson Avenue and Viaduct Road. Funding will come from a mix of public and private sources.

Environmental permitting for the Volvo project was completed in April, and Palmetto Railways is awaiting final approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The 28-mile rail line would move Volvo cars bound for North American dealerships between the automaker’s campus at the Camp Hall Commerce Park off Interstate 26 and a site near the Cross Generating Station owned by electric utility Santee Cooper. The rail cars would transfer at Cross to an existing CSX line for transportation to a vehicle distribution hub in Columbia.

Construction of the rail line, which would run mostly through rural pine plantations, would take between 18 and 20 months. The project's cost has not been announced, but the rail line is among $250 million worth of incentives the Commerce Department and other government agencies promised Volvo in 2015 to get the automaker to build its $1.1 billion campus. 

The rail line also could be used by other tenants of Camp Hall, a roughly 4,000-acre industrial park being developed by Santee Cooper.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_