Railroad being resurrected
Railroad being resurrected | News | The Press and Standard
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
Colleton County is part of an economic development initiative to restore railroad service in the western part of the county.
The county is partnering with Palmetto Railways, SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance, Coastal Electric Cooperative, SCE&G, and the South Carolina Department of Commerce to preserve and develop the existing 40-mile short line railroad previously known as the Hampton and Branchville Railroad Company.
The Hampton and Branchville Railroad Company was originally chartered in December of 1891 to serve the local timber industry.
When SCE&G constructed the former Canadys Station power plant, Hampton and Branchville began running coal cars from its CSX connection in Hampton to the coal-fired power plant.
When the power plant was shut down in 2013, the rail line stopped operating.
The rail line had been slated for abandonment and salvage by its current owners until the county, along with regional and state economic development groups, approached the owners about putting together a plan to preserve the railroad.
Colleton County and the other groups and agencies involved spent months negotiating the potential purchase. The county worked on the negotiations under the economic development code name Project Global.
A price tag for the acquisition of the rail line has not been finalized by Palmetto Railways, the lead agency in the purchase.
At a special council session held Tuesday afternoon, members of Colleton County Council gave a second reading to an ordinance that would authorize the county to assist in the issuing of bonds for the rail project.
The pending ordinance — which could receive a public hearing, third reading and passage at council’s Nov. 3 regular session — does not yet detail the amount of bonds.
Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin said he anticipates the bond amount being finalized in time for the Nov. 3 meeting.
The short line railroad includes over 40 miles of well-maintained, industrial-grade rail through Colleton and a portion of Hampton County.
The railroad is connected to CSX in Hampton, crosses Interstate 95 and runs along several possible industrial sites to the Edisto River in Canadys.
“Preserving this railroad in Colleton County is important because it gives us opportunities to compete for large scale projects and investments. Most large scale projects require rail, and if we don’t have rail, then we are out of the game,” said Steven Murdaugh, chairman of Colleton County Council.
Palmetto Railways will ultimately be the purchaser and operator of the railroad, while Colleton County and its partners will assist with the financing, as well as be involved in developing sites for users along the rail line.
As a division of the South Carolina Department of Commerce, Palmetto Railways operates numerous railroad operations within the state. Most recently, Palmetto Railways is developing the Navy Base Intermodal Facility in North Charleston, which will link CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines with an intermodal facility at the Port of Charleston.
Last year, Palmetto Railways was named the 2015 Short Line Railroad of the Year by “Railway Age” magazine.
“We provide safe, efficient, and cost-effective rail solutions to facilitate the movement of freight and support economic development throughout our state. The use of rail is critical among larger industries needing raw products as well as the export of finished products,” said Jeffrey McWhorter, president and CEO of Palmetto Railways. “This capital investment will allow Colleton County to be more competitive in attracting industry which will further enhance job opportunities within Colleton County and the region.”
In addition to the marketing efforts by Palmetto Railways, the Colleton County Economic Alliance is receiving support from the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance, Coastal Electric Cooperative, the South Carolina Power Team and SCE&G to identify and develop viable industrial sites along the rail line, as well as working together to attract industries to the line.