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Horry County businesses ready for railroad’s return

Crews from R.J. Corman work to repair a bridge over Bug Swamp near Loris on Friday. The train operator expects repairs to take a least a few more weeks and hopes to be operating by the first week of April.
Crews from R.J. Corman work to repair a bridge over Bug Swamp near Loris on Friday. The train operator expects repairs to take a least a few more weeks and hopes to be operating by the first week of April. jlee@thesunnews

Eric Blanton is waiting on a train.

The purchasing manager for Blanton Building Supplies in Loris looks forward to the April arrival of locomotives in Horry County, which hasn’t had a functioning railroad in five years.

“It’ll definitely help us out,” said Blanton, adding that his company had previously used the rail line to ship construction materials such as lumber and sheetrock. “We’ve been having to do everything with trucks. … It’ll be a big help.”

After many delays, R.J. Corman Railroad Group plans to have its first regional trains running from Mullins to Chadbourn, N.C., next week. Horry County service would begin during the first week of April and local businesses are optimistic about the locomotives’ arrival.

Blanton Building Supplies already has a car of lumber heading this way.

“That’s what rail does,” said Bill Henderson, Corman’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Rail does two things. It should reduce the transportation cost for the customers, and it also opens up new markets.”

In the case of Canfor Southern Pine in Conway, the lumber mill’s customer base has been limited by the cost of moving materials via truck.

“Trucks kind of define how far afield you can ship,” said Michael Symons, Canfor’s director of transportation for U.S. operations. “Pretty hard to get it much farther than 400 or 500 miles on a truck economically. This [rail service] gives us options to reach our customers even as far afield as the Midwest, up the Northeastern United States, potentially into the Southwest. … Rail from Conway gives us an option to serve those customers with the product that we make in Horry County.”

Headquartered in Canada, Canfor operates pulp mills and sawmills in the company’s home country as well as in the United States. Symons said the rail line in Horry will give the company another shipping hub beyond its Canada mills.

“For us, it’s a really exciting time,” he said.

Canfor will be Corman’s first local customer since purchasing the rail line in August for nearly $14 million. Blanton Building Supplies will be the second.

The railroad’s previous owner, Carolina Southern, shut down most operations in 2011 because some of its bridges failed to meet new federal standards.

After buying the line, Kentucky-based Corman hoped to have trains moving through the area last year, but October’s heavy rains washed out some of the infrastructure.

Crews have worked overtime restoring the tracks and the company has spent millions repairing the damaged lines.

The opening has been pushed back a few times, including this month, because of maintenance needs and some delays in moving locomotives.

However, the company expects trains to be moving during the first week of April.

Henderson said Corman plans to continue building its local customer base, adding both international companies and family businesses.

“We’re here to serve all customers big and small,” Henderson said. “We don’t differentiate because we want to be a good service provider to everyone.”

Charles D. Perry: 843-626-0218, @TSN_CharlesPerr

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