The Carolina Southern Railroad could be under new management within six months.
That’s the plan discussed this week by a two-state committee that’s trying to get the railroad operating again.
The interstate railroad committee met Wednesday to receive an update on the path of negotiations with the railroad’s owner, the Pippin family. The committee is working with state and local governments to come up with the money to purchase the railroad.
Committee chairman Doug Wendel said he and co-chairman Dennis Worley will sit down with the Pippins on Sept. 8 to begin hashing out the details of the purchase.
Wendel said Horry County will be a main funding source for any purchase, so Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus will also be at the negotiating table.
A second appraisal of the railroad ordered by the committee will be available this week, Wendel said.
As a good faith gesture, Wendel said he would make sure the Pippins have a copy of the new appraisal before their Sept. 8 meeting.
“It wouldn’t be right to come to the table and say ‘Here it is’ without their seeing it first,” he said.
In addition to putting the three members at the bargaining table, the committee also authorized them to pursue any alternative funding sources that could be used to buy the railroad.
“We feel confident we’ll have the funds to purchase the railroad,” Wendel said. “We’re pursuing a lot of different options.”
If the initial negotiations aren’t productive, the Pippins will have to abide by a petition of abandonment reached through an earlier agreement and give up ownership of the rail assets.
Carolina Southern General Manager Jason Pippin said he and his father Ken are looking forward to working with the committee to resolve the issue.
“We all have the same goal — to get the railroad up and running and being a productive asset for all of the communities involved,” Pippin said.
The Carolina Southern, which serves northeastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina, has been mostly shut down for three years.
After federal officials implemented new standards for bridges in 2011, the railroad’s owners said they didn’t have the money to bring some of their bridges up to code and voluntarily shut down most their rail service.
Wendel said a timeline has been established to move the purchase forward and he sees no reason it can’t be met.
Even though the initial negotiations between the two sides will have already taken place, the federal Surface Transportation Board still requires a formal negotiation process that will begin on Sept. 29.
The STB will look at what has been presented by both sides and determine a price for the sale by Oct. 29 and present it back to the two parties for consideration.
The STB will then issue its final net liquidation value of the railroad by the end of November, Wendel said.
“We’re then looking at about three months to close the deal and have it all wrapped up by February,” he said.
Lazarus said the committee is considering several options for the purchase of the railroad including having a joint ownership between North Carolina and South Carolina and then leasing the use of the rail line to a private operator.
“Regardless of who ends up with it, we’re not giving up the ownership of the easements,” Lazarus said.
He added that even though the county may pony up a large portion of the funding toward the purchase, not all of the money would actually come out of the county coffers.
The group would look to find possible state and federal grants and those funds would be filtered through the county.