The R.J. Corman Railroad company will now move forward with a major project to improve its railroad in Horry and Marion counties. Monday, the company held a groundbreaking in Conway to launch the project.
“Very exciting. We’re happy,” commented Adam Boyles, the local Commercial Development Manager for Corman. “We came down here when this [railroad] was abandoned. So we’re trying to build this from that.”
Boyles said when R.J. Corman bought the abandoned railroad that runs from Myrtle Beach to Whiteville, North Carolina, in 2015, it needed a lot of work. The previous rail operator had shutdown the railroad in 2011. After about six months of work, Corman started rolling trains along the tracks in March of 2016. However, after some improvements during and since those first six months, trains still cannot go above ten miles per hour on the tracks.
Monday’s groundbreaking marks the beginning of millions of dollars in improvements, thanks to a federal transportation grant. Horry County Government applied for and won a $9.8 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. Significant contributions from South Carolina and R.J. Corman are other funding sources for the $17.5 million project, according to a press release from Corman.
After the improvements, trains will be able to safely go up to 25 miles per hour, which means carrying more freight.
“Now you can present something that has a viable productive rail infrastructure system in place along with your highway network and your port system,” Boyles said. “So you get a little bit competative against these other markets that you’re competing against.”
So the improvements open the door to those possibilities for established cities or vacant space ripe for industrial development on or near the railroad.
“Who’s to say what the future’s going to bring for us, but I think it’s looking better now,” commented Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner.
He also said more freight on the rails may have a fringe beneft for the area’s busy highways too.
“The more traffic, if you will, that we put on the rail the less traffic is going to be on the highways – the easier it’ll be for you and me to get to work,” Gardner said.
Corman expects the project to take until 2022 for all the improvements to be complete. According to the press release, the project will include replacing approximately 60,000 crossties, upgrading nine miles of rail, upgrading nine bridges with a complete rebuild on a 220-foot bridge that spans the Crab Tree Swamp in Conway, and rehabilitating 39 at-grade crossings.