Carolina Southern Railroad and Kentucky-based R.J. Corman Railroad have agreed to finalize the $13.9 million sale of the 80-mile line from Myrtle Beach to Whiteville, N.C., by August.
It’s been nearly four years since Carolina Southern ceased operation of the line because of structural problems with some of its bridges.
Bill Henderson, vice president of sales and marketing for R.J. Corman, said the company is excited to restore rail to the Carolinas and credited the bi-state rail commission with helping the deal come to fruition.
“We see the rail for what it can be,” Henderson said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we see this rail for what it can be and we’re excited to be a part of making something special for the Carolinas.”
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An agreement for the sale, signed last year between Carolina Southern owner Ken Pippin and a two-state rail committee representing Horry County and Columbus County, N.C., allowed the counties to assign their collective rights and interests to a third party. The counties chose R. J. Corman Railroad Co. to be the new owner/operator of the railway.
Henderson said R.J. Corman sees potential for forestry products and agriculture products to use the rail.
“Our goal is to help these companies create new opportunities to grow their business,” Henderson said. “We think working with these companies and working with the economic development group will help attract jobs to the area.”
Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, called the acquisition “a very significant development that offers tremendous potential for the Grand Strand and Pee Dee economies.”
“The new operator must make a major investment and extensive commitment to restore the existing infrastructure, but R.J. Corman is an established operator with an impressive track record,” Dean said in an email. “Fully restoring the rail line could yield long-term economic development initiatives but the immediate impact will benefit existing businesses and possibly help reduce congestion on certain highways.”
R. J. Corman Railroad Group employs more than 1,600 people in 23 states. In addition to the 10 short line railroads it operates, the company provides industrial switching services, emergency response services, track material distribution, track construction, signal design and construction, railroad worker training, and builds eco-friendly Railpower locomotives.
Henderson said the company is targeting six months after the official sale to get rail moving on the line again.
“Everything is going to need some work,” Henderson said. “Some areas need a lot more work than others… It’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of investment.”
Corman has its own repair and maintenance operation, and it is estimated that $2 million worth of work is needed to get the rail back in operation.
Henderson said R.J. Corman will be looking for employees with rail experience, but also touts a training program for those without experience.
“We think this area is rich with a skilled group of employees and workforce,” Henderson said, adding the company is more than 2,000 days injury free as of Thursday. “Safety is paramount for our workers… We want to hire people who have a commitment, a discipline, and a hard work ethic to contribute to our team.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.