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Ribbon-cutting to launch new rail era Tuesday

Local officials, economic developers and railroad executives from Kentucky are expected to attend formal ribbon-cutting ceremonies tomorrow (Tuesday) in Chadbourn and again Wednesday in Loris, S.C

The ceremonies will mark a new era of rail service for Columbus County and the South Carolina counties of Horry and Marion.

Tuesday’s ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Chadbourn Depot, 103 S. Wilson Street. A similar ceremony is scheduled Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at the town clock in downtown Loris.

The public is invited to both ceremonies. The Chadbourn ceremony will take place at what will be the headquarters for R.J. Corman’s Carolinas Line. The previous railroad operator had been based in Conway, S.C.

The opening has been pushed back a few times, including this month, because of maintenance needs and some delays in moving locomotives.

Bill Henderson, vice president for sales and marketing for the Kentucky-based R.J. Corman Railroad, said Friday that trains would begin rolling in Columbus County as early as this past weekend or the first of this week. Service to Horry County is expected to begin the first week in April. Henderson said that among the first Columbus customers to use Corman’s rail services will be Ply-Gem (formerly Kroy Manufacturing) in Fair Bluff and Idaho Timber in Chadbourn. Atlantic Packaging in Tabor City also is expected to be a major customer of the railroad.

Henderson said Corman plans to continue building its local customer base, adding both international companies and family businesses. “We’re here to serve all customers big and small,” Henderson said. “We don’t differentiate because we want to be a good service provider to everyone.”

More than 90 miles of rail line in Columbus, Horry and Marion counties have been idle for nearly five years. The former Carolina Southern Railroad had to stop operating after it failed a series of bridge inspections.

After a three-year search by a two-state committee set up by local governments and rail customers but headed by Tabor City attorney Dennis Worley and Myrtle Beach businessman Doug Wendel, Corman was identified as a potential buyer of Carolina Southern’s assets. A deal was reached, but the owner of Carolina Southern had second thoughts and tried to back out of the agreement. A South Carolina Circuit Court, after hearings by a mediator, ruled that the agreement was valid and the deal finally was culminated last year.

Since then, Corman crews have been working along the length of the line to get it up to standards to allow rail service to resume. Corman had hoped to have trains moving through the area last year, but heavy rains in October washed out some critical infrastructure, particularly in the Conway, S.C. area, and crews have been working overtime to restore the tracks. The company has spent millions repairing the damaged lines.

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