By Paul Gable
Hopes are high that an expected sale of the Carolina Southern Railroad will be finalized within the next 60 days, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
Horry County Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding that includes $1.8 million to be applied toward that sale at its regular meeting Tuesday night. In addition, the Horry County administrator was directed by Horry County Council to continue to work toward completion of a sales and purchase contract for the Carolina Southern Railroad.
Columbus County (NC) Commissioners approved a like amount to be applied toward the sale one night earlier.
The two counties, along with Marion County formed a two state task force in 2012 with a goal to getting the Carolina Southern Railroad back in operation after the line was shut down because of needed repairs and upgrades to bridges along the line.
For a while, it appeared that the states of North Carolina and South Carolina would enter into a joint compact to purchase, repair and operate the railroad. That type of solution would have required federal involvement since interstate commerce compacts between states require federal government approval.
Now, however, a private buyer has reportedly been found who will purchase the Carolina Southern Railroad from current owner Ken Pippin.
According to our sources, a sale price of $13.6 million has been agreed to by both Pippin and the purchaser, whose name is being kept confidential at this time. Even Pippin does not know who the proposed purchaser is.
The $3.6 million total provided by Horry and Columbus counties will be used to buy down the purchase price, according to our sources. In addition to the $10 million to complete the sale, the private buyer will spend an additional $2-4 million to repair and upgrade track and bridges.
At the time of the sale, Horry County will receive approximately $145,000 in delinquent property taxes, currently owed by Carolina Southern Railroad, but the approximately $200,000 delinquency in lease payments for county owned rights of way will not be recovered, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
While the name of the purchaser remains confidential, sources familiar with the negotiations say it is a national scale corporation who owns short line railroads in other parts of the country as well as in-house rail and bridge repair operations.
Once the sale is finalized, the new owner will immediately bring in repair crews to make necessary repairs and upgrades to track and bridges in order for the Carolina Southern Railroad to resume operations, according to our sources.
The repairs are estimated to take no more than 120 days, which means the Carolina Southern Railroad could be back in operation by late spring 2015 if the sale is finalized by the end of this year.