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North Carolina Railroad faces public records disclosure lawsuit
The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina Railroad Co. (NCRR) claiming it refused to produce public documents for review under the North Carolina Public Records Act.
The law center had requested records from NCRR relating to the proposed Durham-Orange light-rail project, which Go Triangle cancelled earlier this year.
After hiring an attorney to determine whether the railroad was subject to a state records disclosure law, the organization learned NCRR's position is that the railroad isn't legally bound to provide any such documents for public review, law center officials said in a press release. Center officials then informed NCRR they planed to challenge that determination in court.
The railroad's "lack of transparency" is concerning since the area now is considering a commuter-rail service between Wake and Durham counties to meet the needs of a growing population and support future economic growth, law center officials said. All shares of NCRR are owned by the state and residents of North Carolina, they added.
"The North Carolina Railroad spends and invests the people's funds, it receives debt relief from the state and pays no income taxes. It is only right then that the people of North Carolina get some oversight over its actions," said Kym Hunter, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "All bodies work better when they are transparent and open, and the people of North Carolina have a right to see how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, how our state assets are being used, and how policy decisions that implicate the future of North Carolina are being made."
However, NCRR — the state's oldest private business corporation that has operated as a private company since its 1849 founding — receives no state funds, NCRR officials said in an emailed statement. The company is responsible for managing the railroad's business franchise, properties and capital resources, and as such, state public records laws do not apply to NCRR and its operations, they said. NCRR is considered a Class II railroad under federal law.
"This 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," NCRR officials said.
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