A group opposed to a private firm's plans to build a bullet train stretching from Dallas to Houston has filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an effort to obtain communications between the firm and state officials.
Texans Against High-Speed Rail submitted a public information request last year to TxDOT seeking any documentation from the agency related to Texas Central Partners, the private firm developing the rail. The group is arguing that many of the documents responsive to the request were withheld and the information that was released was heavily redacted without clear reasoning.
"I think there's a lot of documents that were not provided," said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a group of largely rural opponents attempting to derail the project. "I think there were a lot of documents that were redacted inappropriately. We're hopeful that we can work with the state and get this resolved relatively quickly and painlessly."
Workman said the request, submitted on March 20 last year, asked for any documents concerning Texas Central or its proposed high-speed railway from 2009 to 2015. The lawsuit claims the resulting records would likely consist of email communications between the various entities involved with the project.
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Upon receiving the request, TxDOT kicked it to the Attorney General's office, seeking a ruling on whether the documents could legally be released. According to the lawsuit, Texas Central submitted a brief to Paxton's office urging them not to release certain information as it "contains trade secret and confidential commercial and financial information."
Texas Central submitted a copy of the brief to Texans Against High-Speed Rail with much of its contents redacted. The lawsuit claims the redacted brief limits the group's ability to challenge a ruling from the Attorney General because they cannot develop an "effective challenge" without "sufficient identification of the alleged confidential information."
The Attorney General ruled in July that TxDOT could withhold documents discussing certain information. Workman said the group eventually received some documents from their request earlier this year, though they had significant holes. The Attorney General's office did not return requests for comment Thursday.
Over the last two years, opposition has grown in rural communities along the expected route of Texas Central's project, though officials in Houston and Dallas have come out in favor of it. Concerns have largely focused on how the train and its stand-alone track system will impact communities and the company’s ability to use eminent domain to condemn land for the project if needed.
Workman said the group requested the documents in order to assess whether the state is working more as a supporter rather than a regulator of the high-speed rail project, which Texas Central has said it plans to finance without public funds. The company has partnered with Japanese train operator JR Central to bring its bullet train technology to Texas – a move the group has opposed.
"But one of the things we’re going to find out is how entrenched this project is within the state government," Workman said. "And if they continue to fight hard, we will know that this is more of a state project than what we’re being told...It needs to be made very clear to the investors that are considering this project and to Japan that they’re not going to come take our property without a fight."
A representative from TxDOT said they have not yet received the lawsuit and declined to comment. Texas Central also did not respond to a request for comment.