Rail committee pushes railroad owner to take action

Horry County's only railroad is still shut down, while its owners look for funding to fix some bridges. Now, local officials are pressuring the railroad owners to get back on track.

Carolina Southern Railroad has been shut down on its South Carolina route for more than a year, because about four or five bridges need repairs due to more stringent federal regulations.

The railroad's president says he doesn't have the $1.5 to 2 million dollars it would take to fix the bridges, so he has looked for other funding, like government grants.

"We've applied for federal loans several times and we haven't been successful with that yet, but it's not for lack of effort," said Jason Pippin.

A two-state committee formed to get the railroad running has told Pippin to either bring in an investor with deep pockets, lease the railroad or sell it, and if none of those work, the committee may have to ask a federal agency to step in and force a sale.

Officials say that would be a last resort.

"It costs people money, it's traumatic, in time and effort and energy and it's wasted," said Doug Wendel, co-chairman of the North and South Carolina Interstate Railroad Committee. "And so if you can encourage and work with people to find an alternative, that's the ideal way."

Wendel says some local businesses badly need the railroad and it's costing them money to ship products by other means.

He's worried those businesses may leave the area if they can't get rail service soon.

"On the other hand, when we go out and try to recruit industries in here and they need rail, if it's not available, it puts us at a disadvantage to compete with other jurisdictions that want them to come in."

Pippin says he remains optimistic he'll find a way to get back in operation. He says he and the rail committee are not on opposite sides.

"We're all on the same page, we want to get the railroad open."

Pippin says he recently won a grant from North Carolina to fix one bridge and after that, he'll see where the company is financially to fix another one.

Wendel says the rail committee hasn't set a deadline, but Pippin has to find an option that works or committee members will have no alternative but legal action.