By Paul Gable
Carolina Southern Railroad and Horry County officials appear to remain far apart on any plan to get the railroad back in operation.
Service on portions of the rail line was voluntarily suspended by Carolina Southern Railroad officials when new federal regulations, especially on bridges, went into effect in the summer of 2011. Those service interruptions directly affect Horry County.
Since then, the railroad has been searching for funding with which to make the repairs. It joined with Horry County in two unsuccessful applications for discretionary railroad infrastructure TIGER grants from the federal government.
Work will begin shortly on bridges and railroad crossings in North Carolina thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, little is happening in South Carolina. Approximately eight months ago, an informal committee of officials from government agencies in Horry and Marion counties in South Carolina and Brunswick County in North Carolina, all areas served by Carolina Southern Railroad, was formed to discuss ways to get the railroad back in operation.
This has not happened. Instead, the formally called Interstate Railroad Committee of North and South Carolina has appeared more interested in wresting control of Carolina Southern Railroad from its current owners.
One of the first statements made by the committee to Carolina Southern owners was ‘we can’t put public money into a private business.’
This is a particularly absurd statement from Horry County representatives when the county has just set aside $1 million to guarantee private Canadian airline WestJet against suffering losses while it establishes a new air route to Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Additionally, Horry County has provided incentives with public dollars on three different occasions to AvCraft, a private aircraft maintenance and finishing business located at Myrtle Beach International.
Then, there was Project Blue where Horry County was initially willing to risk up to $10 million public dollars on a new, private business that proposed to establish a new call center in the county. For many reasons, that project fell through on its own merits.
And we haven’t even begun to discuss the Multi County Business Park or Broadway at the Beach where tens of millions of public dollars went to a private company.
In general, it is not good government policy to use public dollars to benefit a private corporation in the pursuit of its private business goals.
However, an exception can sometimes be justified in the area of transportation infrastructure, especially when that infrastructure impacts the overall economic health of the community.
The same Horry County officials, who would deny a loan of a couple million public dollars to Carolina Southern Railroad, seem perfectly willing to spend hundreds of times that amount to build Interstate 73 from Dillon to Myrtle Beach. This effort includes consideration of some type of partnership with private European or Chinese businesses to get I-73 built.
Perhaps a new Horry County Council chairman, to be elected within the next month, will bring new vision to the process of getting what everyone calls this important piece of infrastructure back into operation.