Frustration was evident as members of the Interstate Railroad Committee learned last week that the latest plan from Carolina Southern Railroad owners to reopen 93 miles of closed lines, mostly in Horry and Columbus counties, is going nowhere.
Railroad owner Ken Pippin told committee members in March that officials in Washington, D.C. had indicated a third try at TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant funds could be successful.
Committee co-chair Doug Wendel told members meeting last Wednesday at the Loris Public Safety Building that there is no current TIGER grant program, and no clear date on when, or if, the program might be revived.
Wendel said he got his information from Congressman Tom Rice.
Neither Ken Pippin or his son Jason, a Carolina Southern Vice-President, attended last week’s committee meeting. Wendell said Jason Pippen was in a Baltimore, Md., hospital where he was being treated for back problems.
Columbus County Economic Development Director Gary Lanier and Myrtle Beach EDC President Brad Lofton, who last month said they would work with the Pippins on the grant effort, said last week their time was better spent elsewhere.
Easement fees, the money area towns pay the railroad to cross rail lines, have been called too high by some, prompting Lanier to offer a comparison study on what several rail lines charge, including Carolina Southern.
Municipal leaders have complained that not only are Carolina Southern easements too high, but the financially strapped railroad isn’t event paying its taxes.
Horry County councilman Joey Prince asked Co-Chairman Dennis Worley to execute a formal request letter to the Pippins for information concerning which municipalities in South Carolina are paying easements and which are not.
With no formal plan of action adopted during last week’s meeting, even after a 20-minute closed session, leaders said they were frustrated.
Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said leaders in her city were worried about the impact of the shutdown of the Grainger coal-fired electrical plant there, and Santee Cooper’s obligation to remove remaining coal and ash from the site.
With no rail service, it will take 6,000 trucks just to move the coal offsite, Lawson said, with all of those trucks passing through Conway.
Lex Johnson, a manager for Atlantic Corp. of Tabor City (parent company of this newspaper), said the company is taking financial hits from the lack of rail service, going on two years now.
“For every 10 rail cars we do not have, it takes 45 trucks to move that product,” Johnson said. “I want that rail road, it’s costing Atlantic a lot of money to not have it. All these trucks are costing a lot of money, we are unloading 15 trucks a day. Logistically, it’s a nightmare for us.”
Wendel said he hoped the railroad problem would be resolved soon, while Worley addressed leaders who had devoted time to the committee.
“I appreciate all of you from Columbus County and Horry County municipalities coming to these meetings every month, and please know that we are working on these issues as best we can,” Worley said.