Session A5

Leading NEPA in a Growing Network of Privately-Led Projects: A Case Study on High Speed Rail

Erin Lee, Kevin Wright, EIT, Travis Kelly, & Laynee Jones, PE

2:00 – 3:30 PM (PT) | 5:00 – 6:30 PM (ET)

About the Presentation

How is the NEPA process keeping pace with private technological innovations for transportation options in the U.S.? On September 10, 2020, FRA issued a final rule that established safety standards for Texas Central Railroad, LLC (TCRR) high-speed passenger rail (HSR) system. TCRR, the private project proponent, proposes to construct and operate an approximately 240-mile, for-profit, HSR system connecting Dallas and Houston based on the Japanese N700-Series Tokaido Shinkansen technology. FRA's major federal action (or NEPA trigger) was the proposal of minimum federal safety standards implemented through a rule of particular applicability (RPA) to ensure TCRR's proposed system would be operated safely. RPAs are regulations that apply to a specific railroad or a specific type of operation. In addition to describing the proposed action and the route for this exciting new mode of transportation in Texas, this session will explore:

  • How major federal transportation actions associated with a privately-proposed project differ from publicly sponsored projects •roles of the lead federal agency (FRA), the private proponent (TCRR), and the independent, third-party preparer (AECOM) of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
  • Nuances in how to implement the environmental review process, including related federal permits
  • The relationship between the FRA's rulemaking and the Record of decision (ROD)
  • Use of the U.S. Permitting Dashboard for large or complex infrastructure projects for Federal agencies, project sponsors, and interested members of the public

NEPA Track, 1.5 AICP Credits

About the Speakers

Erin LeeErin Lee
Associate Vice President, Program Manager

Erin Lee is an environmental planner and biologist currently serving as Associate Vice-President and Program Manager in AECOM's Impact Assessment and Permitting Practice. For the past 15 years, she has been focused on driving sound and efficient environmental analysis and documentation under the NEPA for commercial, transportation, energy, and federal clients. Her passion for research-based solutions has facilitated the implementation of complex actions from both private developers and the Department of Defense. She served as Project Manager and led AECOM's development of the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail EIS as the third-party independent preparer. Erin is additionally the co-lead of AECOM's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Technical Practice Group Leader facilitating practitioner growth, education, and innovation throughout AECOM's Americas region, including the Canada and United States. Erin has a MS in Oceanography and BS in Microbiology from Texas A&M University.

Kevin WrightKevin Wright, EIT
Environmental Protection Specialist
Federal Railroad Administration

Kevin Wright works for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) out of their headquarters in Washington, DC as an Environmental Protection Specialist, where he has served in that position for the past 5 years. During his time with FRA, Kevin served as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lead for the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail EIS, among other major rail projects. Prior to his time with FRA, Kevin also worked for the Federal Highway Administration for 6 years as both an Engineer and an Environmental Protection Specialist. Kevin has a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech.

Travis KellyTravis Kelly
Vice President, Stakeholder Engagement
Texas Central

A native Texan and graduate of Baylor University, Travis Kelly has been working to bring high-speed trains to Texas for more than 10 years. He currently serves as Vice President of Stakeholder Engagement and supports the company's state and local government and regulatory affairs. Travis joined Texas Central as one of their first employees, bringing his previous experience as a public policy consultant for both private industry and non-profits. Travis was identified as one of Progressive Railroading's 2017 Rising Stars in the industry.

Laynee JonesLaynee Jones, PE
Senior Project Manager

Laynee Jones is a planner and an engineer with over 25 years of experience in major transportation, environmental, and NEPA projects. She has a track record of building and motivating teams on high-profile projects, building- consensus and trust, and cutting red tape. Her background is in public transit, roads, and active transportation and she has led projects from bus rapid transit to high speed rail. She has a deep understanding of the NEPA process and active interest in improving decision-making around social justice, sustainability, public transportation, emerging technologies, and climate change. Recently she led the Mountain Accord initiative that brought together disparate interests to create a sustainable plan for the preservation of the Central Wasatch. She played a key role on the management team for the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail EIS. Laynee has a BS in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University.