Whiteville to Wilmington
This rail line was originally built between 1849 and 1853 as part of the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad (W&M). This railroad extended from Wilmington, NC, to Manchester, in southwestern Sumter County, SC, then across the Wateree River to Kingville on the South Carolina Railroad (later Southern, now NS). The railroad was never financially stable, and was reorganized several times. Around 1870, it was reorganized as the Wilmington, Columbia & Augusta (WC&A), and was associated with the Wilmington & Weldon (W&W). These two roads formed the core of the railroad that became the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which was financially stable. This route continues in South Carolina as the Sumter to Mullins segment.
This entire section of railroad from Wilmington through Whiteville to the SC state line formed a key part of the ACL until the Florence to Wilson cut-off was completed in the 1890s. This section was still an important part of the ACL for much of the 20th century. This route was the entry route from the south to Wilmington for the ACL. After the merger with SAL in 1967, it was determined that the SAL line from Pembroke to Wilmington was a better route and that this route was not needed. The section from Whiteville to Malmo, 37 miles long, just west of Wilmington, was abandoned in the late 1970s. This was the first section of the old WC&A to be abandoned. The section from Mullins, SC, to Whiteville was sold to the Mid-Atlantic Railroad, and it is now operated by the Carolina Southern Railroad. Carolina Southern also operates the former ACL/SCL branch down to Conway, SC, which leaves the old SCL line at Chadbourn, NC. The US Army operates a separate railway between Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU) and its interchange with CSX at Leland at a point just south of the line between Wilmington and Malmo.
Towns on the abandoned section include Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Wananish, Bolton, Byrdville, Delco, and Maco (home of The Maco Light). It is still possible to make out the abandoned ROW in many places.
The Maco Light: There is a famous ghost story surrounding the former station at Maco on this abandoned line of track. Some accounts say that the light has been seen since the rails were removed in 1977, others say the light has disappeared.
Read about the legend using the links below.
This statement is incorrect: "The US Army operates a portion of this line from Wilmington out to Malmo in order to access the government rail line down to the Marine Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point south of Wilmington along the west side of the Cape Fear River." The Army only operates the 18-mile line from Military (not Marine) Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, near Southport, to a five-track interchange yard linking with CSX near Leland, NC. I used to operate over this line as a member of an Army Reserve railway unit that augmented civilian rail employees at MOTSU. In addition to this 18-mile line, the base itself has 100 miles of track.
There was daily passenger service on the line ACL #'s 54 and 55; one train per day each way. In Chadbourn in the 1950's there was a mixed freight/passenger service south through Tabor City which carried one older passenger coach (heated with a wood/coal burning stove) and a caboose. These were hooked onto the rear of the daily freight service. The coach/caboose combo were stored on a siding (of sorts) in Chadbourn at night. Passengers from the eastbound morning passenger service to Wilmington could change for Tabor City and points beyond.
The freight cars returned daily from the south were stored on a mainline siding next to the old freight depot and were picked up by a late-night eastbound freight service to Wilmington which ran five nights per week.
Carolina Southern ceased operations in 2012. The line was aquired by RJ Corman Railroad Group in fall 2015, who has brought the line into service as far as Red Hill, SC operating at 10 mph. First train ran on April 6, 2016.
Columbus Co and the NCDOT are undergoing studies to reestablish a link between Whiteville and Wilmington with 3 primary and 3 secondary routes considered. It has been implied that the favored route by county commissioners follows the original Malmo alignment.