Railroad needs funding in a hurry to fix bridges

Time is running out for Carolina Southern Railroad to get funding it needs to fix some bridges.

The Conway-based rail line is still in business, but just barely. Company officials say the 18 customers it had a couple of years ago are down to two or three.

The railroad can't fully operate because at least four rail bridges need repairs, due to more stringent federal regulations.

The company applied for federal grants, but didn't get them and can't afford to fix the bridges without some kind of outside help.

"It's not likely. I don't see it happening. Unless there's some major event that could happen that I don't know about," said Carolina Southern vice president Jason Pippin.

Pippin said the railroad needs about $1.6 to $2 million. He said Horry County, Columbus County, NC, state lawmakers and other agencies are trying to help find grants, but have been unsuccessful.

Pippin said the railroad has everything else it needs to get up and running very quickly. All it lacks now is funding.

"We have the contractors in place, everybody's ready to go. I think if we could get some funding, we could have this railroad open within 30 or 45 days."

The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation is among agencies seeking money for the rail line.

Officials there say lack of a working railroad effects 600 existing jobs and makes it harder to bring in more.

"When you don't have an interstate (highway) and you don't have a railroad it makes it very difficult to recruit manufacturers, because every manufacturer has to get materials in and out of their production space," said MBREDC president Brad Lofton.

Lofton said he hopes to have an answer on funding within 60 days, but there are no guarantees.

Pippin said the cost of fuel, insurance and everything else keeps going up and he needs to find financial help soon.

"I think the big question is when, and I wish i had an answer for that, but I don't," he said. "Hopefully very soon."

A study done for the MBREDC by Coastal Carolina University management professor Henry Lowenstein found that manufacturers that use rail transportation pay two times the average wage as those that don't. The study concluded that state and federal tax revenue from jobs dependent on rail access contribute more than $12.3 million to the economy.