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Feds give green light to Charleston-based railroad's plan for Volvo Cars site

South Carolina railroad to unveil new line to Volvo’s Berkeley County factory

Palmetto Railways’ proposed rail line would connect Camp Hall Commerce Park in Berkeley County, home to the Volvo Cars manufacturing plant, with CSX tracks near Santee Cooper’s Cross Generating Station (above). File/Staff

A federal agency cleared the way this week for construction of a rail line in Berkeley County that will let Volvo Cars send its S60 sedans to U.S. dealerships.

The Surface Transportation Board unanimously approved a request by Charleston-based Palmetto Railways to build and operate a 28-mile stretch of tracks connecting the automaker's campus at Camp Hall Commerce Park to a site near Santee Cooper's Cross Generating Station.

Once at Cross, the cars will be transferred to CSX Corp. trains that will take them to a distribution site in Columbia, where they will be transported to Volvo dealers throughout the country.

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The Army Corps of Engineers has already approved environmental permits for construction. Palmetto Railways, a division of the S.C. Commerce Department, will continue acquiring rights of way and design work, a spokeswoman said.

In addition to Volvo, the rail line can serve future manufacturers that locate at the commerce park off Interstate 26 near Ridgeville.

The board, in its decision, said the rail line will reduce the number of trucks needed to transport Volvo cars from the manufacturing site. The board's studies also showed there will be little environmental impact from the project.

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Palmetto Railways has not announced a cost for the project, and Commerce Department spokeswoman Alex Clark said funding sources won't be finalized until closer to the start of construction.

"Construction activities will begin following completion of pre-construction activities and identification of funding," Clark said. "Construction itself is estimated to have an 18- to 24-month duration."

Palmetto Railways has proposed buying land for preservation and credits in an existing wetlands mitigation bank as compensation for 103 acres of wetlands that would be destroyed to accommodate the new tracks. Construction would take place during daylight hours within a 100-foot right of way that runs mostly through rural pine plantations.

The rail link is among roughly $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 in South Carolina.

Bobby Hitt, the state's commerce secretary, has said that in addition to helping Volvo, the rail line will lure businesses to a rural part of the state that can benefit from taxable investments and job creation.

Volvo, based in Sweden and owned by China’s Geely Holding Group, is the anchor tenant at the Camp Hall site. The automaker plans to employ nearly 4,000 workers at its only U.S. manufacturing campus by 2023. In addition to the S60, Volvo will build its XC90 SUV on a second production line in Berkeley County beginning in 2021.

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

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