North Carolina Railroad sued over access to records

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed suit against the North Carolina Railroad Co., in a dispute over records the organization requested from the railroad company, but were denied.

In a statement issued Monday, the SECL announced that it had filed suit in Wake County (N.C.) Superior Court after the railroad company rejected a request for records regarding the recently-scrapped plan for a light rail network to between Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C. The SECL argues in the statement that NCRR's "intransigence in negotiations" with public transportation provider GoTriangle "became a key reason that GoTriangle was forced to abandon the long-sought project." The light rail project sputtered to a stop earlier this year after support for the project collapsed. That lack of support resulted in the inability to secure federal funding for the project. NCRR's president and 13 board members were also named in the suit, as was Durham Mayor Bill Bell.

According to the SECL statement, the organization requested records regarding NCRR's involvement in the light rail project and the company rejected the request, arguing that it is not subject to North Carolina's Public Records Act. The SECL disputes that position in the lawsuit since the state exercises "significant 'supervisory responsibilities and control' over NCRR."

NCRR's website describes the company as a "private business corporation with 100 percent of the stock owned by the state of North Carolina." The SECL argues that NCRR is "built on taxpayer funds" and "spends and invests the people's funds," receives debt relief from the state and pays no income taxes. The SECL statement also says that NCRR's board of directors is appointed by the governor of North Carolina, any dividends from the railroad must go to the state and "upon dissolution, all assets would be returned to the state." The statement said North Carolina has also made capital contributions of more than $193 million in recent years to NCRR.

"And yet, the N.C. Railroad has taken the position that it keeps the public wholly dark about its inner workings — refusing to provide any documents for public view," the SECL statement says.

The SECL requested an immediate hearing on the matter. The SECL statement says that under North Carolina law, private corporations are subject to the North Carolina Public Records Act when they are "significantly intertwined with the state." Trains News Wire reached out to NCRR for comment, but did not immediately receive a response. NCRR told the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., however, that the lawsuit, if successful, would "create an unprecedented requirement threatening every private company in which the State of North Carolina invests, to share private records with the public at any time.”

According to its website, NCRR operates a 317-mile rail corridor from Charlotte to the Port Terminal in Morehead City, N.C. The corridor is mostly operated by Norfolk Southern with CSX also operating over a portion of the route near Raleigh. Amtrak and N.C. Department of Transportation also operate several daily passenger trains across the route.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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