CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - On Wednesday, leaders plan to meet to discuss the future of 70 miles of railroad that spans three counties, including Horry and Marion.
The Carolina Southern Railroad has been idle more than two years, because some of its nearly 100 bridges were identified as deficient by the Federal Railroad Administration. Carolina Southern Railroad did a lot of work but did not have all the funds necessary for all the repairs. Recently, council members from Columbus and Horry counties have shown interest in its potential, both backing nearly $4 million in tax incentives for its rebirth.
If everything goes according to plan, Doug Wendel, Co-Chair of the Ad Hoc Interstate Railway Committee says the railroad could be open during the March-May time frame. But there are several steps involved, including repairs and maintenance. It all starts with how fast the players involved can reach that contract.
"No matter what happens around here, a rail interstate, whatever, and we all hope that it comes, It's not going lessen the need for a rail corridor," says Jason Pippin, the GM of Carolina Southern Railroad. "It is in our country the best way to move freight that there is."
And there are hopes that it won't just benefit companies by moving their freight and keeping costs down. Pippin says that when the railroad runs in normal full operation, it keeps a quarter of a million trucks off busy highways, like 501, each year. And that means saving the roads from excess damage and saving your tax dollars for repairs. And leaders with MBREDC say that having a functioning rail system is a big incentive to companies that are considering moving to Horry County.
"Their growth hinges on their ability to get bulk materials in at the lowest cost possible," says Pippin. "So if they want to continue to grow their business, they're going to find the best and economical way to get stuff in here and that's going to help us as consumers as people who look for jobs around here."
And leaders with the railway committee say they're also looking at the possibility of excursion trips, like a Holiday Santa Train or dinner trains. Trains with similar trips in other parts of the country can bring in 3,000 people in just 16 hours of operation, with tickets ranging from $4 to $100.
And far in the future, Carolina Southern Railroad would like to see passenger trains rolling through. Pippin says right now these tracks connect with CSX in Mullins, which connect with Florence and Dillon, which could take you somewhere like New York. But county council says the priority right now is to get the tracks back up to safety standards and get freight moving.
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