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

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

A plan to let Palmetto Railways buy the land it needs to link the Volvo Cars manufacturing campus with a CSX rail line, even as it waits for permits for the new tracks, received initial approval Tuesday from the state's Joint Bond Review Committee.

The committee approved spending $5.5 million to acquire the necessary right-of-way, which stretches nearly 23 miles through 45 parcels. If the cost exceeds that amount, Palmetto Railways would have to go back to the committee for another approval.

The proposal will go before the state's Fiscal Accountability Authority next week for final approval.

Palmetto Railways wants to acquire a 100-foot-wide swath along the corridor at fair market value, either through negotiated sales or condemnation, according to documents submitted to the committee.

The acquisitions would affect 21 property owners, with much of the land belonging to power provider Santee Cooper. The rail line would connect to a CSX line at the state-owned utility's Cross Generating Station. Palmetto Railways, a division of the state's Commerce Department, said it will use money from surplus property sales to pay for the land.

The state-built rail link is among $200 million worth of incentives South Carolina promised Volvo in 2015 to get the Swedish automaker to build its $1.1 billion manufacturing site in Berkeley County. It will allow trains to move cars from the automaker's site at the Camp Hall Industrial Campus near Ridgeville to inland distribution centers for domestic sales.

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Volvo estimates 70 percent of the cars that will be built for U.S. sales will move to dealers via the rail link, with the rest transported by trucks.

Most of the cars Volvo builds at the Berkeley County plant will be exported through the Port of Charleston to foreign markets.

Palmetto Railways is waiting on permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal Surface Transportation Board to begin construction. The short-line railroad also has applied for an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant that would pay for up to 50 percent of the rail link's costs, which have not been announced.

Volvo is the anchor tenant at the roughly 6,800-acre Camp Hall site, and its manufacturing campus will employ nearly 4,000 workers by 2023, according to projections. The facility will begin production of a remodeled S60 sedan next summer and will start building its popular XC90 SUV by 2021. At full production, the automaker plans to build 150,000 cars per year.

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