No magical grant programs have surfaced to help the Conway-based railroad repair the bridges that shut it down last spring. No buyers or investors have jumped at the chance to sink their money into a struggling railroad. But with the exhaustion of each simple or easy fix, we do believe the railroad is moving closer to getting back on track.
Those involved in the two-state committee formed to get the railroad back up and running say that progress is still being made. The group meets once more Tuesday to compare notes on how things are going and hopefully chart a course for getting the needed transportation back in operation.
Myrtle Beach businessman Doug Wendel has been leading the group and said the biggest challenge so far – which he feels has been overcome – was convincing the Pippins, who own the railroad, that nobody was going to swoop in with handfuls of cash to help them start moving again.
It took a while, Wendel said, “to get them just to recognize that if they don’t have the money and they don’t have the wherewithal to secure financing and there are no grant programs, their options have been narrowed down. … Now I think they understand that.”
Why does the railroad matter? The track is a vital resource for a number of current manufacturing businesses. Conway-based Metglas, for instance, used the railroad to transport its goods and has now resorted to trucking them to the port of Georgetown instead, a less cost-effective method. Other businesses along the route have discussed moving out of the area altogether because of the lost resource.
But it’s not just current businesses that could be affected. What’s unknown – and more troubling – is the number of businesses that might have expanded or relocated to the area but haven’t because of the lack of a functioning railroad.
“If we wish to diversify the economy and secure manufacturing, we need rail,” Wendel said. And Wendel, also chairman of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said that the job creation group has worked with a number of prospects interested in using a railroad. “We’ve had dialogue with a whole lot of people who need rail.”
Wendel is confident that progress is still being made on getting trains moving again, though at this point he said it will require finding an outside investor to take over from the Pippins.
“They’ve got to do a joint venture or they’ve got to sell the railroad to make it work. … I think there’s been some progress there.”
We hope Wendel’s right. Particularly in an area without a large highway, those attempting to lure manufacturers to the Strand will be hobbled until the trains roll once more.