Myrtle Beach sees economic power in revamped rail line, but obstacles exist. Here’s why

·2 min read

When it opened in 1937, Myrtle Beach’s train depot was a symbol of coming prosperity.

The modest Broadway Street building for decades gave wary passengers and conductors a respite from the banality of rail travel, helping to build the city into the vacation mecca it is today.

But take a stroll along that dead rail line today, and you’re more likely to wince than wax philosophic. Strewn with garbage, the area is dotted with encampments for the homeless.

Buildings along the way are hollowed out and grass grows unchecked in many places.

Yet city leaders see things differently down the 2.7-mile stretch cutting through the heart of a newly formed arts and innovation district, connecting it to the oceanfront boardwalk: A bike and walking path with the potential to unlock millions more in new investment.

Politics will have a say in what actually happens along the line.

That’s because Horry County actually owns the tracks, and officials haven’t given any indication about to do with them.

Last spring, self-described “rail preservationist” Stephen Lane offered up a plan to create a for-profit train ride from the Atlantic Coast Railroad Station to the city’s depot.

He said the project could run parallel to a rails-to-trails path, with each benefiting the other.

“We feel that the opportunity to have the trail and the railroad present would create the maximum amount of value to this,” Lane told a county council subcommittee last spring. “this concept has been proven several times. Basically, we would be able to create this little tourism hub in what’s now an undeveloped area.”

The line’s rights-of-way include links into Myrtle Beach’s Bathsheba Bowens and Futtrell parks. It also goes directly into the city’s imagined public square area.

Bob Brookover, a Clemson University researcher, concluded in 2019 that every $1 million spent redeveloping the line would return of $1.4 million in economic impact.