It has been three years since the Carolina Southern Railroad halted operations in the Pee Dee, cutting off the Myrtle Beach area’s only rail access to the outside world. But local officials say a new settlement clears the way to eventually resume service once again.
Carolina Southern halted operations along 93 miles of rail in 2011, after the Federal Rail Administration declared some of its bridges unsafe for travel. Owner Ken Pippin had said his company could not afford the necessary repairs and failed in its application for federal grant funds.
As a result, officials in Marion, Horry, and Columbus, NC counties saw their region’s fledgling industrial sector suffer from no rail access. Manufacturers had to use less cost-effective trucks to move cargo, according to former Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Council chair Doug Wendel.
“Railway is very critical to attract manufacturing organizations… that they can ship raw materials in (and) finished products out in a very cost-effective and efficient manner,” he said.
Wendel had been leading an ad hoc committee of local governments hoping to negotiate a solution. The committee and Pippin frequently clashed over how to move forward, with the Carolina Southern owner hoping to keep control of the line. The county governments eventually filed a petition asking the federal Surface Transportation Board to declare that the railroad failed in its responsibility to provide service.
Pippin has agreed to begin the abandonment process and the two sides will try to negotiate a sales price for a yet-unknown buyer. If too much time elapses, the parties will again ask that the STB declare the line abandoned and set a selling price.
The owners of Carolina Southern will still keep control of about seven miles of track near its junction with a CSX line west of Mullins. The settlement allows the company to charge a fee of $3.15 per freight car from trains which travel that section, which Wendel called “minimal.”
South Carolina Radio Network has not been able to reach Pippin since 2012. He did release a statement after the settlement was announced. “After the sale, a fresh infusion of capital to the railroad will enable it to be a strong partner in the economic growth of two great states and the creation of new jobs,” he said.
Wendel said the two sides shaved at least a year off the overall selling process through the settlement. “It was a good compromise and made sense for all parties involved,” he said.