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State moving forward on rail access for Volvo site

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“We made a commitment to Volvo that we would bring rail in,
and it is crucial to Camp Hall’s development.”

— S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt

State agencies are beginning to move forward on plans to make the future Volvo Car USA site in Berkeley County accessible by rail, which the automaker expects to use soon after the first S60 sedan rolls off production lines in 2018.

The proposal calls for construction of a new rail line to connect Camp Hall Commerce Park to an existing railroad right-of-way near Santee Cooper’s Cross Generating Station. The S.C. Commerce Department and its Palmetto Railways division propose to connect to existing CSX railroad tracks. Palmetto Railways will construct, own and operate the line to the existing CSX tracks.

The map shows the general area being studied for the future rail line. (Map/Palmetto Railways)

Public comment, input

The Palmetto Railways project team plans to hold an open forum on Tuesday to introduce the project. No formal presentation will be given. The event will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Cross Community Center, 1690 Old Highway 6. People can also learn more or submit a comment on Palmetto Railways’ project website. Online meetings will be held through April 19.

The sites are about 20 miles apart, according to area maps; the exact path of the line has not been determined. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the rail line is expected to go through mostly industrial-owned forest that is used for harvesting timber. He said that the rail line could cut off several existing service roads used by those industrial landowners but that no public roads should be impacted.

Hitt said the existing plan does not involve “moving or interfering with existing buildings.” He said that state officials have been talking with community leaders and corporate landowners about the project and that the next step is to introduce it to the community and get feedback from residents. That process begins this month, with online and in-person meetings scheduled.

“We are in the very beginning of this project,” Hitt said. “We have scoped out the general area the rail will go, but we haven’t engineered down to a specific site. ... We met with community leaders already, and we’ve met with the biggest property owners. We’re now ready to go to the community level.”

Before moving forward, Palmetto Railways must submit an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, to identify the need for the project and the preferred rail routes. The Corps will analyze the environmental impacts of the project, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, and identify alternative routes as needed.

The rail line is expected to be complete in the second quarter of 2019. Volvo will make a stopgap arrangement for the period between the plant’s opening in 2018 and the rail line’s completion, according to S.C. Commerce Department spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell. Volvo spokesman Jim Nichols said trucking is an option but it is too early to say definitively what the company will do in the interim.

Cars destined for export will be brought to the Columbus Street Terminal along East Bay Street in downtown Charleston. Palmetto Railways also manages rail operations at the Port of Charleston after cargo is brought in by the rail lines.

Hitt said the new rail line would make the Camp Hall site more attractive to Volvo suppliers or other manufacturers, as well as create an opportunity for future industrial sites to be developed in the northern part of Berkeley County.

Katarina Fjording, Volvo Car Group’s vice president of purchasing and manufacturing, said recently the company is working to localize much of its supply chain near the plant.

“We made a commitment to Volvo that we would bring rail in, and it is crucial to Camp Hall’s development,” Hitt said. “If you’re going to have an industrial site that’s going to be successful, you must have rail.”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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