By DEUCE NIVEN
Challenging efforts from several local governments to force the sale or restoration of rail service by Carolina Southern Railroad (CSR), its attorney is asking for help from the federal agency that could decide its fate.
Three counties, seven municipalities, and two industries are now part of a complaint filed Aug. 27 with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board accusing of abandoning 76 miles of track in Columbus, Horry and Marion counties, and of failing to act in the last year to lift an embargo it filed on Aug. 27, 2012 “suspending service over its rail lines” in the North and South Carolina counties.
Whiteville, Chadbourn, Tabor City and Fair Bluff in Columbus County are the other North Carolina parties to the complaint, joining Conway, Loris and Myrtle Beach in Horry County, SC and Metglass, Inc. of Conway, a distributor of transformer electric steel and other items.
CSR’s rail cars idled since 2011, the STB complaint was filed on the one-year anniversary of the railroad’s filing of an embargo “suspending service over its rail lines.”
CSR owner Ken Pippin and his attorney, Tommy Brittain, in the past month have said negotiations are ongoing with one or more potential buyers. Neither were available for comment this week.
In his formal answer to the STB complaint, Brittain called on the complainants to cease further proceedings until CSR “has had a reasonable time to exahust efforts to sell the rail line while at the same time attempting to obtain financing for necessary repairs.”
Brittain also asks for “assistance from the Surface Transportation Board to mediate and/or negotiate a sale for fair value to a motivated buyer suitable to all parties.”
Brittain also challenged the STB complaint on the grounds that CSR has not been given reasonable opportunity to correct its problems.
Complainants contend that the one-year time frame between CSR’s notice of embargo and its complaint was not enough to prompt enforcement action by the STB. Brittain, in his answer, cited a 2002 case decision from the U.S. 7th Court of Appeals finding that the time the railroad was idled was just one factor to consider. Other factors include the cost to repair the railroad, the intent of the railroad, the amount of traffic on the line, and the financial condition of the rail line.
CSR has made two efforts to land federal grants to aid in the estimated $2 to $4 million it will take to get the railroad running, and has a third grant attempt pending, Pippin said previously.
For more on this story see the Oct. 2 Tabor-Loris Tribune print edition.