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Ribbon-cutting ushers in new era of rail service here

Shawna Bramblett, Sandy Adams, Sen. Bill Rabon and April Colyer cut the ribbon Tuesday in Chadbourn to officially open R.J. Corman Railroad’s Carolinas Line. Bramblett and Colyer are the daughters of the company’s late founder, Rick Corman, and Adams is Corman’s sister.

Freight traffic along the former Carolina Southern Rail line resumed this week for the first time in five years.

More than 200 celebrated the event Tuesday as three family members of the late Rick Corman and a Fair Bluff native who now serves in the state Senate cut a ribbon in Chadbourn to officially mark the opening of the R.J. Corman Railroad Company’s Carolina Lines.

Shawna Bramblett and April Colyer, daughters of the rail line founder, and Corman’s sister, Sandy Adams, were joined by Sen. Bill Rabon. The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Rabon was instrumental in obtaining state seed money for the purchase of the idle local railroad by the R.J. Corman group.

Corman President Craig King told the crowd, “We’re very excited to be here. Rick Corman raised us in this business, which he started with a rented dump truck and a backhoe.” He said that Corman, who died of cancer in 2013 at age 58, “built this company with extremely hard work and an overwhelming zeal for relationships and love of people. Our people work harder than anybody you know because that’s the way they were raised.”

The company currently employs more than 1,600 people in 24 states and will have 30 people working in the Chadbourn rail yard.

Headquartered in Nicholasville, Ky., the company operates 11 short line railroads in nine states. The Corman group of companies also provides emergency rail services associated with derailments and natural disasters, switching, track construction, track material distribution, signal design/construction, aircraft maintenance, building switching locomotives and operates two dinner trains.

The Corman group obtained the assets of the old Carolina Southern Railroad, which had been defunct since 2011, in August after years of efforts spearheaded by the Interstate Railroad Committee. That entity was co-chaired by Tabor City attorney Dennis Worley and consisted of representatives of municipal and county governments in Columbus County and in the South Carolina counties of Horry and Marion. The 90-mile rail line runs from Mullins, S.C., to Fair Bluff, Chadbourn and Whiteville, south to Tabor City and then into Horry County, S.C. through Loris and Conway.

King recognized Worley and Columbus County Board of Commissioners Chairman Giles E. “Buddy” Byrd for their service on that interstate committee, as well as Sen. Bill Rabon and former Sen. Michael Walters, with presentations to them of plaques and Corman hardhats. Rep. Ken Waddell, who was in attendance, and Sen. Jane Smith, who had to be in Raleigh for a meeting and could not attend the ceremonies, also were recognized for their efforts in helping to return rail service to the area. In Waddell’s case, his involvement began before he was elected to the legislature when, as mayor of Chadbourn, he and Columbus County Economic Development Director Gary Lanier first proposed creation of the Interstate Railroad Committee.

Byrd told the audience, “With the economic conditions that exist today, we know job creation is the most important economic effort we can devote ourselves to. The support we’ve given to the effort to restore this rail service clearly shows that when we work together we can make things happen for the benefit of our friends and neighbors. Brokering the deal took a lot of hard work, and this is a great day for Columbus County companies and it’s a great day for the future of economic development in Columbus County.”

Rabon, who grew up in Fair Bluff but now represents Brunswick, Pender, Bladen and New Hanover counties in the Senate, said, “What you have done here proves what we thought all along: industry and entrepreneurship don’t stop at county lines and state lines. Since 2011 a lot of things have changed, and we’ve worked toward building relationships and putting things together to make this possible.

“This railroad is going to be the backbone of southeastern North Carolina. What you – and we – have done here is prove that we can work together and that, when we pull together, we all win.”

Tuesday’s ceremony in Chadbour n was followed Wednesday by a similar ceremony in Loris, S.C. More than two dozen Corman officials traveled from Kentucky to take part in the ceremonies.

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