Some concerned railroad shut down may slow economic development

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) With Horry County working to bring more companies in to the area, there's hope this will be the first steps of many to bring more development in to Horry County.

When trying to bring more companies in to the area, you have to be able to offer the service that would convince them to stay. For a lot of businesses, having a working rail service is one. Since that service is missing in Horry County right now, there's a new subcommittee being formed to find what can be done.

Our main connection to the National Rail Network, the Carolina Southern Railroad, has been on a standstill for a couple of months now because a lot of the bridges it uses don't meet standards.

There's concerns that the standstill could stunt Horry County's growth. Brad Lofton with the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation says this could slow the roll of getting more businesses to invest in Horry County. He said the corporation is in the talks with a business right now needing rail service, but since there's no activity on the tracks, he said they probably won't be able to make a deal.

Rail service is more reliable than driving in trucks on the highway, and it can move more materials at a lesser cost. So for some companies, it can be a deal breaker. "Companies that are coming and want to invest in Horry County," said Dodd Smith with Metglas. "And since we don't have an Interstate I-73, and then you say to the company well you want rail but we used to have rail service but we don't have rail service anymore, it's a very it's a real penalty."

The MBREDC said it's recognized this potential penalty, and so there's now a subcommittee to address it. The subcommittee will be a group of people solely focused on finding ways to get funding and the railroad back on track.

As of this morning, the railroad company says they still have no idea when they'll hear back about a potential grant. The Carolina Southern Railroad is trying to scrape together whatever money it can in the meantime, from loans to other grants, to fix some bridges just to get the railroad back open. It's not just the railroad, as more than 20 businesses are affected by this shut down in the Marion, Columbus, and Horry counties.

Some businesses are using land and sea right now to bring raw materials in to Horry County. The company Metglas relies on the railroad to bring in 70 percent of the raw materials it needs to operate.

Now the company is forced to spend more money shipping materials into Wilmington, and driving the rest of the way into Conway, and it's costing the big bucks. The Chief Operating Officer said around $100,000 a year. Metglas has big goals to expand business in the U.S., but first it needs a working railroad to take them there.

"We're just asking them(businesses) to be patient," said Jason Pippin with the Carolina Southern Railroad. "We try to update them with whatever little piece of information we have. Right now it's kind of a waiting game for us which is frustrating. But every customer that we have has been supportive."

Pippin also said if they are able to get the money to fix those key bridges, then it should hopefully be no longer than another month or two before the trains can get back moving again.

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