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Norfolk Southern halts Charleston service after flood damage

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By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 5, 2015, 2:28 p.m.

Updated 7:10 p.m.

Norfolk Southern has shut down the rail line that runs in and out of Charleston, said Susan Terpay, the rail line’s S.C. spokeswoman.

The constant deluge of rain that has hammered South Carolina for days has caused significant damage to Norfolk Southern’s Charleston service and rendered it inoperable, which impacts Port of Charleston customers.

Flash flooding and record rainfall have washed out tracks and closed rail bridges, Terpay said. No information is available yet on how many miles of track are damaged or how many customers will be impacted.

The Charleston rail service will be restored on Friday at the earliest. Norfolk Southern personnel are currently assessing damages on-site. Terpay said three rail lines — which run from Charlotte to Columbia, Columbia to Charleston and Columbia to Spartanburg — were impacted by the heavy rains and flooding.

Manufacturers, retail distribution centers and other companies use the rail line to ship containers in and out of the Port of Charleston. BMW Manufacturing Co. exclusively uses Norfolk Southern rail to ship cars to the port.

BMW spokeswoman Sky Foster said Greer-built vehicles that are destined for export through the Port of Charleston will be delayed because of extensive flooding in the Columbia area. The automaker exports 70% of the cars built at its Upstate plant.

S.C. State Ports Authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand said S.C. Inland Port gates in Greer are open and trucking operations are ongoing. Terpay said Inland Port operations in Greer are continuing — except for Norfolk Southern’s rail service to Charleston.

BMW cars are usually sent to the Inland Port in Greer  — a neighboring inland terminal operated by the ports authority — where they are loaded onto Norfolk Southern trains and shipped to the Columbus Street Terminal on East Bay Street in Charleston for export.

Since the Norfolk Southern line into Charleston is closed, BMW said it might move cars via truck.

“BMW will work closely with state authorities to assess alternative options, including movement by truck to the Port of Charleston,” Foster said in a statement.

All Norfolk Southern gates were closed today at noon for any Norfolk Southern traffic heading to Charleston. Although there is no service out of Charleston currently, the rail line will accept traffic in the gate for outbound loading.

The 238-03 train and 238-04 trains, both originating in Atlanta and destined for Charleston, will be held in Greer and Greenville, respectively.

“Norfolk Southern has been very proactive and is working as quickly as possible to alleviate service interruptions caused by the storm,” said a statement by Barbara Melvin, port senior vice president of operations and terminals. “We are working with customers to mitigate the impacts of the historic weather event until regular rail service resumes.”

CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said several branch lines and at least two major lines have been impacted by flooding and downed trees. The Monroe Line, which runs from Abbeville to Rockingham, N.C., and the Charleston Line, which runs from Savannah to Florence, are affected. CSX is running trains at reduced speeds through these areas.  Seay said some customers in the Charleston region may not be able to be served until all tracks are restored to service.

“CSX is recovering from historic levels of rain over the weekend in the Carolinas. … CSX crews are working to restore normal operations but the risk of additional rain and flooding continues,” Seay said in a statement. “Service to Charleston is still operational but slower than usual. … We will continue to update our customers as we know more.”

Port terminals, planes

Port operations in the Lowcountry are open today, Dhand said.

Flooding caused some delays at port terminals the weekend. Two container ships, Elisabeth-S and NYK Orpheus, arrived late to the Port of Charleston yesterday and a breakbulk ship, Warnow Merkur, delayed its arrival from Sunday to today.

Crane operations were delayed for about 15 minutes Saturday night because of rain, but operations resumed when crane operators regained visibility.

Charleston International Airport continues to operate normally today. Airlines did not have to cancel any flights there over the weekend, airport spokeswoman Charlene Gunnells said.

Boeing South Carolina’s North Charleston campus did not experience any significant flooding issues  and operations are continuing with minimal disruption, spokesman Rob Gross said.

“The site, as would be expected, has seen higher than normal absence rates today and it is possible that will be the case throughout the week as teammates deal with the impacts of the storm,” Gross said in a statement.

Boeing’s Emergency Operations Center team monitored the situation on-site over the weekend. Gross said Boeing booked a block of rooms at a nearby hotel on Saturday for employees that could not return home because of flooded roads.

The South Aviation Avenue and International Boulevard intersection, which most people access on their way to either the airport or Boeing’s campus, has a malfunctioning traffic light. Flooding damaged the traffic light control panel.

Repairs are under way and will take at least two days to complete, Gunnells said. The Charleston County Aviation Authority is asking commuters to avoid the intersection. Aviation Authority police are monitoring the intersection.

Until repaired, motorists will not be permitted to make left turns at the intersection. This includes:

  • No left turn from South Aviation onto International Boulevard.
  • No left turn from International Boulevard onto South Aviation.
  • No left turn from International into the Boeing parking annex.
  • No left turn from the Boeing parking annex onto International Boulevard.

Boeing employees should use the Dorchester Road entrance to the employee parking annex.

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

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