Horry County railroad project set to gain steam. Here’s the latest

Efforts to rev up the local railroad is gaining steam.

On Monday, R.J. Corman Railroad Company Carolina Lines and the Horry County Government will break ground on “Moving the Carolinas Forward: a Rural Freight Rail Project,” an initiative to renovate several miles of railroad that go through Horry, Marion and Columbus (N.C.) counties, according to a news release from the railroad company.

The local portion of the railroad renovations go through Conway and are part of the old Carolina Southern Railroad that R.J. Corman purchased in 2015. The $17.5 million project, which will be funded through a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant as well as the state of South Carolina and R.J. Corman, is expected to be completed by spring 2022, the release states.

The project will include replacing about 60,000 crossties, upgrading 9 miles of rail and nine bridges, including a complete rebuild on the 220-foot bridge that spans the Crab Tree Swamp in Conway, and renovating 39 at-grade crossings, according to the release.

Corman, which operates 13 short-line railroads across the country, purchased the Carolina Southern Railroad in August 2015 for nearly $14 million and, after investing more than $3 million into restoring the freight service, had it back running in March 2016, the release states. However, due to needed repairs to the track, the trains have been limited to 10 mph, according to the release.

“Improving the track, and allowing for higher speed trains, will improve the freight transportation for the local industries and continue to add economic boost to the businesses and communities,” the release states.

The Horry County Government was awarded $9.8 million through the TIGER Grant, which are given to projects that offer “state of good repair, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental sustainability and safety,” according to the release. The county has partnered with the South Carolina Department of Commerce and Marion and Columbus counties to implement the project as it will benefit each area, the release states.

For the first time in several years, a train runs Horry County tracks to Canfor in Conway on Wednesday, April 6, 2016. R.J. Corman Railroad Company ran two engines to Canfor, picked up a car, stopped at the Conway Depot to pick up a few more old engines and headed back to Marion County. The last time the tracks were used was 2011. Janet Blackmon Morgan jblackmon@thesunnews.com

The project’s intention is to renovate the rails so that they can sustain speeds of 25 mph, according to the release.

“The project will allow the Carolina Lines to improve efficiency, while continuing to provide safe and reliable rail service to the community,” the release states, adding that the investments are focused on long-term benefits rather than temporary fixes.

Prior to R.J. Corman’s purchase, the Carolina Southern Railroad last ran in 2011 after shutting down operations because some of its bridges failed to meet new federal standards.

Corman said upward of 60 employees will be at work at times when needed.

“They will be utilizing a variety of specialized equipment,” according to the release.

Kentucky-based R.J. Corman employees more than 1,500 people in 22 states and offers a variety of services within the railroad industry.

David Wetzel serves in both editor and reporter roles for The Sun News. An award-winning journalist, he has reported on all types of news, sports and features stories in over a decade as a member of the staff. Wetzel has won awards for sports column, feature and headline writing.