Proviso veto changes museum plans

Kevin Boozer Staff Writer

September 7, 2013

RIDGEWAY — The S.C. Railroad Museum had to revisit some of its long-term planning this summer after a one-time proviso was vetoed by Gov. Nikki Haley.

This proviso veto will not affect the day-to-day functions and operations of the museum because the $200,000 in proviso funds was allocated to enhance the museum facilities.

Improving the gravel parking lot, the siding on the buildings, the physical plant building and working on the museum’s rolling stock were some of the projects the proviso would have helped fund. Another improvement would have been a revamped, more interactive website. The proviso would help improve the image at the Rockton and Rion and Greenbrier sites, as well.

Rodger E. Stroup, superintendent of the S.C. Railroad Museum Rockton, Rion & Western RR, said the all-volunteer organization will prioritize and work to implement those things as time and funding allow.

“We never have received any general fund money before,” Stroup said.

He was encouraged that the proviso passed the Senate and House in a compromise budget.

“If it is in the budget next year, we hope she will view the proviso differently,” Stroup said.

The operating expenses for the museum come from other areas. Dues from Railroad Museum members and the train ride ticket prices and the gift shop sales are the biggest revenue sources.

The museum also receives around $20,000 from the county’s general operating budget. People wishing to support the museum can go to the website for membership applications or email the membership information to info@scrm.org.

Stroup said the museum received three grants in the late 1990s-early 2000s but now changes in the grant requirements make the railroad museum ineligible, one reason they had such high hopes for the proviso.

For those grants, transportation no longer is a factor, and that factor had put the museum in the running for funding in the past.

According to an August letter the museum sent to the Governor’s Office, the Railroad museum actually is an operating tourist railroad (Rockton, Rion & Western Railroad) rather than a museum.

“We do have a small museum gallery and several historic rail cars that visitors can experience, but our primary mission is operating tourist trains over 5.1 miles of restored track from Rockton, S.C., to Rion, S.C. We own an additional 6.5 miles of track that we hope to restore in the future,” Stroup said. “Each year we provide train excursions for over 10,000 passengers, ranging from preschoolers to senior citizens. We are the only operating tourist railroad in South Carolina and we attract visitors from across the eastern section of the country.”

Sen. Creighton Coleman worked with the Senate Finance Committee to craft the $200,000 proviso. Coleman said Railroad Museum volunteers met with students at the Darla Moore School of Business.

“Those students who were working on MBAs did an analysis of the museum and determined the organization could increase its marketability if its buildings were improved to be more aesthetically pleasing and have increased functionality,” Coleman said.

Coleman worked with Sen. Hugh Leatherman, finance committee chairman, and the Senate Finance Committee met with the Railroad Museum volunteers who thought it was a good idea and the proviso passed the Senate.

Coleman said the delegation’s other member, Rep. MaryGail Douglas, helped steer the proviso through the house budget process. Haley voted to veto the museum proviso and the senator could not garner enough votes to override the veto.

The senator said the people on the finance committee used their expertise to find the best place in the budget to attach the proviso in hopes of it making it through the process.

Coleman said they will try again next year. In general, Coleman said the museum brings around 10,000 to 20,000 visitors to the county each year, something he and others see as a potential long term economic development catalyst for the county.

He said they are pitching it to the Legislature as an economic development initiative.

“One reason the Guardian Plant agreed to locate in Fairfield County was the museum’s ability to assure the company the Norfolk Southern track by the business would be maintained free of charge to them by the county/museum. The lights and track at the Highway 321 crossing are maintained with county funds,” said Stroup.

Stroup said the museum continues to work with the Chamber of Commerce in that area. The museum allowed Norfolk Southern to operate on 1.1 miles of the track at no charge on weekdays.

“While this is somewhat inconvenient for our weekday charter operations we realize that we can be an important player in helping the economic growth of the county and the state and we are pleased to assist when we can. In addition a local company, Mermac, frequently uses our track, at no charge, to test railroad imaging equipment that they produce locally and sell all over the world,” Stroup said.

For more information on the S.C. Railroad Museum and ways to contribute to the non-profit organization see www.scrm.org.