‘Toot, toot, off we go’ as trains roll again in Horry County

By the Editorial Board

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 mid-March.
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 mid-March. jlee@thesunnews

A red locomotive in Conway is a photo opportunity for people driving on U.S. 501, before trains resume running on Horry County tracks. R.J. Corman Railroad Company placed the locomotive to help Horry residents again think “train” and be alert.

The start date for trains looks to be as soon as this week but more likely between March 20-25. The date depends on progress on track work that has been under way for more than six months. Corman had equipment in place to start rehabilitating the dilapidated trackage when the Kentucky-based company took possession of the former Carolina Southern last August.

When trains roll into Conway, they will be slow moving – at 10 miles per hour. Corman aims eventually to run at 25 mph, but that will take some time – and millions more dollars of investment.

Trains have not run on the 80-mile short line railroad since 2011. That trains will run again is an unusual success story for intergovernmental cooperation. Doug Wendel of Myrtle Beach was chairman of the interstate railroad committee that worked for three years to overcome several obstacles. Wendel and co-chairman Dennis Worley of Tabor City, N.C., deserve credit for recognizing the importance of rail service to towns and businesses – and to future economic development.

Horry County taxpayers have a stake in the resumption of rail service because Horry County owns 10 miles of the trackage now leased by Corman. The county owns a total of 14 miles of the line that once brought tourists to Myrtle Beach on the former Seaboard railroad. The four miles of tracks terminating in Myrtle Beach are not part of the Corman lease.

Two Horry County lumber concerns, Canfor in Conway and Blanton in Loris, are among the employers awaiting resumption of rail service. Metglas in Conway is another rail user and Corman officials expect Metglas to have service by mid-summer. Another prospective customer is Santee Cooper which is removing ash from ponds at the former Grainger site in Conway. Bill Henderson, Corman’s vice president of sales and marketing, says discussion is ongoing. Using rail cars instead of trucks could reduce the time to haul the ash to Holly Hill where it is recycled by Holcim US, Inc.

Other committed users are Carolina Eastern, a fertilizer company in Nichols, and two in North Carolina, Perdue Agribusiness in Chadbourn, and Ply Gem, a maker of plastic fencing, in Fairbluff.

Trains in Columbus, N.C., Horry and Marion counties mean much more than the return of rail service. As the Corman agreement became official, Columbus County Manager William S. “Bill” Clark said, “our county is poised for significant economic growth with the renewal of this railroad. That missing link has been costing our businesses money and making it difficult to attract new companies and grow existing ones.”

Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council, also noting the cost effectiveness of rail service, added the point that trains can reduce highway congestion, making travel easier and safer for residents and visitors.

Corman provides railroad construction and other services in addition to operating 10 other short lines in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Its rail operations include two dinner trains in Kentucky, but the area line is far from the standards required for passenger service. For now, all Horry County residents may celebrate the return of trains.

`Old Smokey’ is the name of R.J. Corman’s steam engine

For more information about the R.J. Corman Railroad Company, based in Nicholasville, Ky., visit www.rjcorman.com

The company soon will resume rail service on the former Carolina Southern line, from Conway to Mullins and connecting to Chadbourn, N.C. Corman’s short line railroads connect to all U.S. Class I carriers, including Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation.