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For generations Sandersville Railroad has been a fixture in Washington County, in the heart of Middle Georgia. Its 40 miles of total track carry more than just kaolin – Sandersville serves as the county’s key economic driver, spurring growth up and down its rail lines. Today it services more than 2,000 acres of industrial development sites and is the single largest kaolin rail originator in the world.
Just next door in Hancock County, growth has been slower. One of the state’s poorest counties, with a median household income of roughly $34,000, Hancock has urgently sought out some of the growth that other counties have experienced in recent years. But while Bryan County outside Savannah gets a sprawling megasite to support the Port of Savannah and metro Atlanta continues its explosive growth, Hancock, like many more rural counties in Georgia, has continued to search for its piece of the pie.
That’s where Sandersville once again enters the picture as it plans its first railroad line outside its home territory – a 4.5 mile spur that will connect the Hanson Aggregates Quarry to an existing CSX line. The spur will allow Hanson to ship an additional 500,00 tons of quartz aggregate, (think loose rock used for industrial development) per year from the quarry, where it currently uses a fleet of trucks.
Ben Tarbutton, president of Sandersville Railroad and the third generation of Tarbuttons to lead the company, tells InsiderAdvantage he’s excited to be a part of helping Hancock County grow. “The (Hancock) county government has been really supportive, they recognized the opportunity and they’re excited to be able to grow their tax base and grow jobs. It’s a great opportunity for the county. It’s a $1.5 million annual economic benefit, the tax digest is going to grow as the plant grows, and that’s a very positive thing.”
A flurry of large-scale construction projects funded by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in 2021, all need aggregate quarry for use in high-strength concrete. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been earmarked for use in building or repairing bridges and roads across the country, many in the Southeast. That means demand only looks to increase at quarries like Hanson, which opens the door to further expansion and more jobs to service it.
“There is a great shortage of rock in many different parts of the Southeast,” says Tarbutton. “Particularly along coastal Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. I think the justification for growth is there now and will continue going forward.”
The project will create 12 new, permanent jobs in Hancock Co. paying an average of $90,000 in salary and benefits, a major coup for a county with fewer than 9,000 residents. It will also open the door for future development, as the original shortline railroad in neighboring Washington Co. has done for more than 100 years. The spur will provide more than $1.5 million in annual economic benefit for the county, the largest economic development outlay in its history. And that number could grow when Hanson embarks on a planned expansion project, slated to begin in 2025.