PENDER COUNTY (WECT) – Freight trains used to be a common sight in Pender County, and they might be returning soon - if money is available.
In the mid-80s, rail tracks from Wallace to Castle Hayne were taken up. Even though there is rail service into the North Carolina state ports, State Representative Susi Hamilton says this part of the state is without adequate rail service.
So, earlier this legislative session, she introduced a bill that, if passed, would order the state DOT to find money to restore the tracks and service.
"We think there is reason to believe that the restoration of this line will create some commerce opportunities and increase activity at the state port," said Hamilton.
Rail service is pretty active north of Wallace, with many rail cars filled with grain and feed being brought from the Midwest into the large farming operations around there, but the tracks end in the Duplin County town.
With the exception of about one mile, the majority of the restored tracks would be in Pender County. County Commissioner George Brown says his board is in favor of having the service restored, but wondered if now is the time for the $65 million per year, for two years, price tag the legislators would have to approve, given our current economic state.
"I think it is going to come down to economics, I think the state legislators will take a look at this and how it will economically impact this area, and see if it is worth that much money for the benefits it can bring to this area," said Brown.
The restoration of the rail line between Duplin County and Castle Hayne has been discussed for years, but it may to easier to find the money than actually getting the work done.
With the exception of the DOT signs, many people may not even know where the rails used to be, the area overgrown with trees and thickets. Two major bridges will have to be rebuilt, including the bridge over the Northeast Cape Fear River at Castle Hayne.
Other bridge work and crossing areas would have to be restored, including in Burgaw, where at least two major downtown roads cross the tracks, one right at the town's historic depot.
Brown also said he believes if the freight rail service is resumed from Wallace to Castle Hayne, passenger service would quickly follow.
Right now, the legislation needed to help the DOT find the necessary funds has yet to be debated in a house committee. But because of the amount of money involved, officials admit it may be years before any kind of freight train service would be restored in this part of North Carolina.
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