Railroad owners warned to get back in operation or else

A railroad that serves Horry County is officially on notice to get back in operation or face a forced sale by the federal government.

An interstate committee is trying to force Carolina Southern Railroad to start up again after being shut down for two years.

Owner Ken Pippin says five bridges on the 76-mile rail line are in bad enough shape they can't be used and it would cost nearly $2 million that he says he doesn't have to fix them.

Pippin says he'd like to get a government grant to help pay for repairs.

"Unfortunately, South Carolina doesn't have a funding program at this time for infrastructure improvements and that puts us all in a tough situation," Pippin said.

Pippin says the railroad has never really been for sale, but he's recently talked with parties that would like to buy it.

"We've had some folks approach us interested in doing something with the railroad, whether it be a partnership or a purchase."

Horry County owns 14 miles of Carolina Southern track and the railroad owes the county about $150,000 in back rent on those tracks, according to County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.

Lazarus says Pippin isn't moving fast enough to get the rail line open again, so Horry and other counties on the interstate committee are appealing to the federal Surface Transportation Board to force Pippin to fix the bridges and begin operation, or sell the line.

"We just felt like this was a step that was needed to take place to protect our assets and to put (the Pippins) on notice that we're serious, we want our railroad running," Lazarus said.

Lazarus says the county really needs that railroad for economic development.

"A good majority of it runs right through our industrial parks, which could help us to bring in new customers and new people to the area for new jobs," he said.

Lazarus says the Pippins have put their heart and soul into the railroad and the county doesn't want to run them out of business, but they need to live up to what they're required to do under the terms and conditions of their deal with the county.