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May 04, 2010



(From today's Chron.....)

An executive of the company that builds France's fast trains has been chosen to get California's high-speed rail program running by 2020, The Chronicle has learned.

The selection of Roelof van Ark as chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is expected to be announced at this morning's authority board meeting in Sacramento. The board still needs to set a salary for the position, and have it approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before the offer is official, but van Ark is reportedly its choice to replace Mehdi Morshed, the authority's executive director, who retired in March. He was apparently selected out of a group of 42 candidates from around the world.

Jeff Barker, an authority spokesman, declined to confirm van Ark's selection, and said no one has been officially hired. But the board is expected to make its final decision today, he said.

"I can say the finalist is someone with a long and impressive career not just with high-speed train technology but with delivering public infrastructure projects as a project manager around the world," he said.

Van Ark, 58, is president of Alstom Transportation, a subsidiary of the French company that constructs trains for France's famed TGV speed trains. In the past year, it has also built high-speed trains for Italy and Great Britain. Van Ark has also worked extensively for Siemens Transportation, the firm that builds trains for Germany's high-speed rail system and hopes to do similar systems in the United States.

He has ties to the Bay Area, where he headed the aviation security division of Invision Technologies, a Newark company that was sold to General Electric Infrastructure in 2004. Van Ark lives in New York but has maintained a residence in Northern California.

Van Ark faces a formidable challenge in getting the planned 800-mile system, which will travel up to 220 mph, built. The first phase, from San Francisco to Anaheim, is expected to cost $43 billion, but the authority has lined up only about $12 billion. It expects to get the rest from federal grants, private investors and local contributions. Last week, the state auditor released a report criticizing the authority for not having enough money for the project. It also said the agency suffers from insufficient planning, poor contract management and lax oversight.

Opposition to the high-speed rail plan is mounting - most notably on the Peninsula - as planners study the specific alignments the fast trains would travel. Menlo Park and Atherton and four environmental groups have sued to stop the project, and they've been joined by Palo Alto, Belmont and Burlingame in calling for the high-speed trains to be placed underground - a costly option, according to rail planners. Some critics have also resurrected the campaign to run the train over the Altamont Pass instead of the Pacheco Pass alignment that's been selected twice by the high-speed rail authority.

Meanwhile, the authority faces deadlines. Contracts for the $2.25 billion in federal stimulus funds awarded to the project must be under construction by September 2012 and completed by September 2017.

Van Ark has spent more than 30 years in the transportation industry, most of them working on rail projects. He's has also overseen such costly and complex projects as the Skytrain rapid rail system in Bangkok and the subways in Shanghai and Guangzhou, China.

The authority board has already determined that the chief executive officer should be paid between $250,000 and $375,000, based on salaries of other top transportation executives in California.

Van Ark could not be reached for comment Wednesday, as he was reportedly flying from France to California. He is expected to be the only finalist for the job in attendance at today's meeting.

E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at [email protected].

This article appeared on page C - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Ron Fulderon

I am usually the first to say that government employees are overpaid. But $375,000 a year to run a project that is going to cost realistically a few hundred billion dollars is such a deal. I'm sure though that he'll figure out a way to live well on the money we borrow from future generations.

Burlingame Resident for HSR

Was the French-bashing really necessary?

Ron Fulderon

Burlingame Resident for HSR, is your posting referring to my comment? If so, be clear that I am not French bashing. The fact that he is French makes no difference to me at all and I am amused that you would immediately take it as French bashing... as I write this I realize that the two words about "living well" might, to you, make the comment have something to do with the French. Je vous assure que non intentionnel.

Burlingame Resident for HSR

My comment referred to the main article:
"Quentin "Q-ball" Kopp and Ron Diridion et al should take good advice even if it is from the French"

Burlingamer against Boondoggles

(Maybe finally our legislators will start doing their jobs, minding the farm)

Lawmakers demand that high-speed rail authority fix oversight, funding problems

By Mike Rosenberg
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 05/12/2010 06:52:22 AM PDT
Updated: 05/12/2010 06:52:24 AM PDT
A panel of state lawmakers on Tuesday ordered California's bullet train planners to quickly fix the oversight, management and funding plan problems detailed in a recent audit.

The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, in a three-hour hearing on the April 29 audit of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, at times attacked the agency for running a program the committee's chairman called "not coherent."

The senators told the authority to have plans in place to fix the issues within 60 days or face an "adversarial" group of legislators.

In addition, committee member and state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, set a January deadline for the authority to prove it has improved its financing plans, community engagement and several other areas criticized by the state auditor and the Legislative Analyst's Office.

Simitian said he was close to pulling his support for the project, citing the auditor's criticism of the authority, which he said "legitimized" the fears expressed by a growing number of Peninsula residents.

"At what point do we throw up our hands and say, 'This isn't going to happen?' " Simitian said to rail authority officials.

"I have a hard time believing this is going to get better."

Simitian pointedly spoke on behalf of his constituents in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties who oppose the $43 billion bullet train project.

"At some point, folks really do need to come to grips with the fact that this is not a case of isolated concern or misguided complaints or rampant NIMBY-ism," Simitian said, referring to the "Not in My Backyard" label often applied to Peninsula critics of the project. "There are real and legitimate concerns here and they need to be addressed sooner rather than later."

Rail Authority Interim Executive Director Carrie Pourvahidi said she would tell the committee in the next two weeks if the authority could meet the January deadline. She said it would be up to recently appointed Chief Executive Roelof von Ark, who starts June 1.

On Tuesday, the rail authority took a step to address issues raised in the report by State Auditor Elaine Howle.

Authority Chairman Curt Pringle asked the state Inspector General's Office, California's federal stimulus watchdog agency, for "consultation" before it spends its $2.25 billion in stimulus cash.

Pringle also requested that a "pre-audit" be completed before the rail authority spends the money.

Finally, he asked investigators to review the action plan the agency must submit to the state auditor in 60 days.

"The Authority believes strongly in transparency, and we welcome scrutiny and oversight," Pringle wrote to Inspector General Laura Chick.

Pourvahidi reiterated the agency's commitment to address the problems outlined in the audit and said officials are addressing many of the issues.

She touted van Ark's potential to improve the agency's financing plans, and said they will hire a "financial team" this year.

"I'm hoping we all look at this as basically going to the doctor's office and getting the right prescription so we get healthy and not worse," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the committee's vice chairman.

The panel called for the audit last year. The authority also will have to submit follow-up plans to the auditor in six months and one year.

Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation. Contact him at 650-348-4324.


Simitian and Lowenthal both seem swayable against HSR--glad to hear it and I will support them should they be swayed. At the very least, they should both be opposed to the current HSR route. The Hgwy 101 route has the least amount of impact to communities and disruption of Caltrain services while it's built. It's basic common sense (and cheaper). Why is that so hard for HSR/politicans to grasp?
French/American bashing is long tradition--let's not be THAT PC.


I missed this broadcast on KCBS, but John Horgan writes that Congresswoman Spier may have seen the light at the end of the tunnel:

By John Horgan
San Mateo County Times

Posted: 05/19/2010 08:27:57 PM PDT

Jackie Speier has had a change of heart. The congresswoman voiced her fresh posture this Sunday over the airwaves of KCBS radio.

During an interview on KCBS In Depth, Speier, D-Hillsborough, concentrated mainly on the financial regulation overhaul that is making its way through Congress.

But she also touched on high-speed rail in California. And, what do you know, Speier expressed serious doubts about the huge project.

Her take was that the project's finances are in deep trouble. She wondered whether there will be enough money to finish the gargantuan project once it starts.

Revisiting rail project

She noted that, although she "loves rail" and supported Proposition 1A, the bond measure that jump-started high-speed rail, she now believes it's time to "revisit the idea." She based much of her argument on a recent state audit that slammed high-speed-rail officials over planning and fiscal shortcomings.

Speier, a longtime advocate of electrifying Caltrain's Peninsula route, said perhaps it would make sense to have high-speed rail, as it heads west out of the Central Valley, end in San Jose. An electrified Caltrain could then transport passengers north to San Francisco.

There was some disconnect in that premise. Caltrain contends it won't be able to electrify, or even survive, without an assist from high-speed rail along the Peninsula.

To our knowledge, Speier is the
first federal lawmaker from the area to express even a modest doubt about high-speed rail to date.

Ron Fulderon

Seeing what you just posted makes me think that she might be responding to her constituency so I just sent her an email asking her to stop or significantly change this project.


Me, too.

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